Flemish Apocalypse

Flemish Apocalypse f. 1r, Scenes from the life of St John


f. 1r, Scenes from the life of St John

The opening miniature of this manuscript shows various episodes from the life of St John the Evangelist prior to his exile on the isle of Patmos. In a round space enclosed by a brick wall, John, standing on a pulpit-like structure, preaches to a group of women. Behind the women rises a Gothic church in the form of a Greek cross (all the arms are of virtually the same length). Through the open doors of the side entrance, John can be seen baptising a woman, Drusiana. A group of three men, representing the infidel spies, watches her. However, only the man squatting against the church wall seems to look at the scene. Another scene taking place on the left side of the miniature, outside the wall, shows John taken before the proconsul by two guards. The proconsul holds a knotty rod in his right hand as a symbol of his authority. Behind the proconsul is a high, narrow, step-roofed building with four small oriels on the corners. On top of the stepped gables sit two golden lions that probably symbolize the power of the Roman Empire. By the proconsul sits a dog with its head turned away. The next scene depicts  St John being transported by boat to Rome. On the swirling waters sails a small boat with John and two men in it. The boat has a double pair of thole pins enabling oarsmen to row. It has a forecastle, and the strakes on the side of the vessel are clearly visible. In Rome, Emperor Domitian awaits John outside the Latin gate. He has him thrown into a caldron of boiling oil. A man feeds the fire with wood while his companion fans the flames by alternately stepping on two bellows. The boiling oil does not harm St John who serenely raises his hands in prayer. Domitian then banishes him to the isle of Patmos. In the lower right of the miniature, the helmsman manoeuvres his little boat out of the picture in the direction of Patmos. The construction of the boat clearly shows it to be a flat-bottomed vessel. The rudder and helm, and the pintles and gudgeons used to attach them to the sternpost, have been rendered very accurately in both vessels.

In the foreground, strewn with flowers and reeds, sit a little rabbit and a bird. The bird looks back over its left wing. The right side of the trees in the miniature have strange bulges that are highlighted with white paint. Only the trees inside the enclosure have leaves, those outside the walls are bare.

St John, who appears five times on this folio, is always rendered as a beardless, young man with a thick mop of curly, blond hair and a nimbus of burnished gold.

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