Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος. Saint John. after 1603. Madrid.
Two days after ☧mas is Saint John the apostle and evangelist’s day is 27 December, at one time it was shared with his brother, James. Could it be, that, its proximity is due to his closeness to Jesus?
Jesus chose 12 men as His apostles, of these, three were closer still. The two sons of Zebedee and Simon Peter. There were some important moments of Christ’s ministry (e.g. the Transfiguration, the Agony in Gethsemani), that, these three were the sole witnesses. For some things only Peter and John. These two were sent to make preparation for the Last Supper, they very timidly watched some of the events after the arrest of Jesus, the Magdalene brought, these two, to the empty tomb.
Of the two, Peter loved Jesus the most, and Jesus loved John the most. Jesus gave the Church to Peter to foster and steward. On the cross, Jesus gave the care of his Mother to John.
John and Mary, after a time, went to Ephesus, where John was bishop and metropolitan. He wrote a Gospel, and three Epistles there. Under Domitian, he was exiled to the island Patmos, where he wrote an Apocalypse. After the death of Domitian, John returned to Ephesus. Of the Twelve, he alone died a natural death, though he had, miraculously, survived attempted execution and martyrdom. He was an aged man, who may have, seen the second century.
Now, El Greco, Domenikos Theotokopoulos, *1541,†1614, painted from 1603 on, at least five series of Apostolados, a group of thirteen portraits, of Jesus Christ and twelve apostles. Now, Jesus was the Messias, and these men brought the good news to the world. The Iscariot was not a subject, instead the Greek, always, painted Paul. A complete series is in Toledo’s Cathedral of Mary.
Of course, the faces (John, the youngest, is beardless) are of importance in the paintings, but also the hands. The paintings, of each subject, shared the same presentation of that subject. Now, why did El Greco do this? He began as an iconographer, and an iconographer paints the same subject, in the same manner. And, perhaps, the attention given to the hands, by El Greco, is that his hand painted. Domenikos Theotokopoulos was proud of his work, and of himself. When he did sign his work, he signed in greek, sometimes just initials ― ΔΘ.
Saint John is sometimes identified with an eagle, sometimes with a book, and sometimes with a chalice. A portrait of John, without such dark shadows about his eyes, is in the cathedral, but one with better hands, and not associated with a known series, is in Madrid’s Prado. There is a legend that a poisoned chalice of wine was given to John, and the poison left the chalice, in the form of a serpent or dragon.