"St. John the Evangelist on Patmos" by Francisco de Zurbaran

The following text is a description of the painting by Anna Lohn and Róża Książek-Czerwińska from the JU Museum.
The tactile graphics have been made by Lech Kolasiński, a painting artist. Thanks to the graphic adaptations blind and partially sighted persons are able to become familiar with the exhibit through touch.

St. John the Evangelist on Patmos

Spain, 17th century
Oil on canvas
Size: 127 x 91 cm
Collection of the JU Collegium Maius Museum

    The painting entitled St. John the Evangelist on Patmos was made in the studio of Francisco de Zurbaran, considered one of the most eminent Spanish artists. The work comes from the seventeenth century and was executed in oil on canvass. The image field has the shape of a vertical rectangle sized 127 x 91 cm. The painting is not signed, yet was ascribed to Francisco de Zurbaran’s atelier on the basis of analysis of its stylistic and technological features. Wiktoria Osęka bought the work in 1987 at a Stockholm auction, and in1995 offered it as a gift to the Jagiellonian University Museum.
    Francisco de Zurbaran (1598 – 1664) was active when the style of the day was baroque. His creative output focused mainly on religious themes, following the Counter-Reformation. His talent was appreciated by King of Spain and Portugal Philip IV who made Zurbaran his court painter. The artist is considered to represent Caravaggionism, characterised by contrasting chiaroscuro, bold foreshortenings and dominance of brown and black hues.
The subject of the painting comes from the Bible and refers to St. John the Evangelist. At the times when Christians were persecuted under the Roman emperor Domitian (81 – 96 AD), the saint was sent to the Greek island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, where he experienced a revelation. It was supposedly just there that the Book of Revelation, or the famous Apocalypse of St. John, was written.
    Moving on to the representation itself: at night, St. John the Evangelist is sitting at a stool, writing. His head is turned up, as if he were looking for inspiration from above. In a distance, sketchy clouds can be seen in the right upper corner. The saint is wearing a grey-brown tunic reminiscent of a monk’s frock. Around his waist is red fabric flowing down to his ankles. Only the tunic’s hem and a bare foot can be seen. With his hand, he is propping a thick volume supported against the table top, where he is writing something using a goose feather. The scene is played out in darkness, as if the saint were cloaked in black. The only light element of the scene is his figure, the rest vanishing in the dark. He is the centre of the composition, barely anything existing around him. Only the sketchily painted table and stool can be seen. The light, possibly moonlight, falls diagonally from St. John’s right, putting shadows on his face.  
    The young man has half-long black hair which merges with the dark background of the painting. A trace of a halo, as if, can be seen over his head. In the omnipresent darkness one can only discern the saint’s profile, a light fragment of his neck, his right shoulder, the hands going out of the wide tunic sleeves, the book, the black fabric and a bare foot. The figure of the Evangelist fills almost the entire canvass.
    The dynamic nature of the representation is due to its composition. The pale light splits the image into two triangles, the bigger one being a slightly lighter figure of John  the Evangelist, the smaller a fragment of the dark sky with clouds. The contrasting juxtaposition of light and shadow lends the painting expressiveness, further emphasised by the pose of the saint and the dynamically falling folds of his garment, building a three-dimensional solid much contrasting with the smooth black of the background.

Orginal photo

Tactile adaptation