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Diego Velázquez, Saint John the Evangelist on the Island of Patmos

Key facts
Full title Saint John the Evangelist on the Island of Patmos
Artist Diego Velázquez
Artist dates 1599 - 1660
Series Two Paintings for the Shod Carmelites, Seville
Date made 1618-19
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 135.5 × 102.2 cm
Acquisition credit Bought with a special grant and contributions from The Pilgrim Trust and the Art Fund, 1956
Inventory number NG6264
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Saint John the Evangelist on the Island of Patmos
Diego Velázquez

On the Greek island of Patmos, Saint John the Evangelist had a vision of the Woman of the Apocalypse, which he recorded in the New Testament Book of Revelation. Here he sits with an oversized book in his lap, his quill pen poised, and looks towards the tiny illuminated female figure hovering in the clouds above him.

She is accompanied by a dragon – the devil – ready, according to Saint John, to devour her baby as soon as it is born. She is given wings, faintly visible behind her, to escape.

This woman is often understood to be the Virgin Mary, mother of Christ. The vision is associated with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, the belief that Mary was herself conceived without sin. This painting is paired with The Immaculate Conception, which shows the Virgin standing on a moon and surrounded by stars, like in the vision we see here. Both are among Velázquez’s earliest known works.

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Two Paintings for the Shod Carmelites, Seville


Velázquez painted these two works as companion pieces during his early career in Seville, in around 1618. They were perhaps intended to promote the recent celebrations in the city of a papal decree defending the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, the belief that the Virgin Mary was conceived without sin.

We don't know who commissioned The Immaculate Conception and Saint John the Evangelist on the Island of Patmos, but they are first recorded in 1800 in the chapter house of the Convent of the Shod Carmelite Order in Seville.

Saint John and the Virgin both appear in the foreground, surrounded by objects identifying who they are, strongly illuminated from the top left. The colours of the Virgin’s clothes are echoed in reverse in Saint John’s, and both paintings demonstrate Velázquez’s skill in conveying a strong contrast between light and shade.