St. John Writing on Patmos
These four miniature paintings depicting the Evangelists were originally part of a book of hours, a type of small prayer book that was designed for wealthy laypeople to use for their personal daily devotions. Such jewel-like images, known as illuminations, were meant to enhance divine contemplation.
Here, each Evangelist appears in a detailed, naturalistic setting accompanied by his traditional winged symbol. Saint John sits with his eagle on the rocky shores of the Greek island of Patmos, writing in Hebrew, with a vision of the galloping horsemen of the Apocalypse on the distant shore. Attended by an angel, Saint Matthew pens his Gospel in a scholarly study, with an image of Christ hanging on the far wall. In a similarly appointed study, Saint Mark reviews his Gospel with his winged lion at his feet, surrounded by an elaborate and enigmatic margin of a man pouring down gold on bystanders. Saint Luke, possibly a self-portrait of the artist, is pictured twice: at his desk with his winged ox beside him, and then again at the bottom of the stairs, working at an easel in his other guise as the first artist to paint the Virgin Mary.
Simon Bening, who served as the dean of the calligraphers, booksellers, illuminators, and binders’ Guild of Saint John and Saint Luke in Bruges, was considered during his life to be among the greatest illuminators in Europe.
Painting on parchment
This item is not on view
Bequest of A. Augustus Healy
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Simon Bening (Flemish, 1483-1561). St. John Writing on Patmos, 1521. Painting on parchment, 5 1/4 x 3 11/16 in. (13.3 x 9.3 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of A. Augustus Healy, 11.505 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 11.505_PS2.jpg)
overall, 11.505_PS2.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2011
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