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Master of the Female Half-Lengths, Saint John on Patmos

Key facts
Full title Saint John on Patmos
Artist Master of the Female Half-Lengths
Artist dates active second quarter of the 16th century
Date made about 1540
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 37.2 × 23.3 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by Queen Victoria at the Prince Consort's wish, 1863
Inventory number NG717
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Saint John on Patmos
Master of the Female Half-Lengths

Saint John the Evangelist is seated on the island of Patmos writing the Book of Revelation. He seems to have reached the twelfth of his 22 chapters, given the appearance in heaven of the ‘woman clothed with the sun’, and the red dragon with seven heads. They are floating in the sky at the top right.

John holds a quill pen, while the eagle that is his emblem grasps his inkwell and pen-case in its beak. On the right, a small monster crouching on the shore of the island waves a stick at the eagle: in the Renaissance, pictures of the saint often included a devil trying to disturb his writing.

The artist may have known Hans Memling’s Saint John on Patmos – the figure of the saint is a free, reversed version of Memling’s, and the woman and the dragon are much as Memling imagined them. The tiny island, the pen-case and the inkwell are reminiscent of manuscript painting.

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