Choose a language
Use Arthive in the language you prefer
Sign up
Create an account
Register to use Arthive functionality to the maximum

Saint John on Patmos

Painting, 1505, 63×43.3 cm

Description of the artwork «Saint John on Patmos»

A small wooden panel "Saint John on Patmos" one of the few works of Hieronymus Bosch, equipped with author's signature. The original is stored in the Berlin art gallery, where it came from the collection of the English historian-Medievalist William fuller Maitland after his death in 1906, the year.

"Saint John on Patmos" (1504-1505) belongs to the late, so-called "austere" period of Bosch, when, after the satirical early works and the Mature period, with its almost sinful delight "the garden of earthly delights" the artist from the image of demonic temptation turns to the theme of Holiness.


Among all the apostles the name of St. John is used in the Bible text most often. The son of the fisherman Zebedee, he was called by Christ one of the first together with his brother Jacob. Jesus called them "sons of thunder" – probably for the impetuosity and vehemence. The authorship of John the Evangelist is attributed to not only the eponymous gospel (4th in a row), but also conciliar Epistles and the Apocalypse is the most mysterious and the most frightening of the books of the New Testament, announcing the end of the world.

After the death and resurrection in 33 ad John preached a long time in neighboring countries, had been subjected to hazards coming into conflict with the pagans, and the Roman emperors Nero and Domitian. Apocryphal texts tell us that John was able to resurrect the dead, but he managed to escape death, even when immersed in a cauldron of boiling water. In the 60 years of the first century ad, the Emperor Domitian banished John to the Isle of Patmos. There John continued to convert the pagans, and then withdrew to a deserted mountain, where, after three days of fasting and continuous prayer through it was to hang the Spirit of God, prophesying about the last days of the world. Recorded prophecies made the Book of Apocalypse (Revelation of John the theologian). Apparently, it keeps the character of Bosch in the knees.

Interestingly, at the time of the writing of the Apocalypse of John, by all accounts, should have been already very old man, but Bosch shows him in keeping with this tradition is quite young. This young, somewhat naive appearance, curly hair, pink vestments to symbolize the inner purity of John.


Winged angel on the hill encourages John to record the visions coming to him. It is made with a certain grace and completely in blue tones – I think that in this way Bosch emphasizes its immaterial, immateriality. However, it is alarming that similar, with pointed wings and a ghostly blue glow in other works of Hieronymus Bosch depicted demons (for example, in the triptych "The hay").


In the upper left corner, where aspiring view John Bosch depicts a female silhouette. This is the image of the Apocalypse – "the woman clothed with the sun, under her feet the moon, and on her head a crown of twelve stars". Most often, the image of the wife of Apokalipsa is seen as a symbol of the Christian Church in times of persecution, and from about XII century some theologians began to identify the wife of Revelation with the Virgin Mary. The Bosch she is holding a baby – apparently, this means that Bosch is well familiar with this kind of theological subtleties, takes this analogy.


Why at the feet of John Bosch depicts eagle? The eagle, the traditional iconographic symbol of St. John the Evangelist. In the medieval treatise "Sermons on the Gospels" (1489) contains this description of John: "In comparison with the other evangelists he is like the eagle. As the eagle flies higher than all birds, as he is above all creatures that can look at the sun without damaging our eyes, and Saint John the Evangelist perceived the light of the Lord subtly and clearly, and thus have seen more than this to anyone living before and after him."

Eagle Bosch exists on the same line as demon. Their views crossed. Between them there is a silent confrontation, such a confrontation between good and evil.


There is a misconception that a demon attempting to steal the theologian ink – a product not so much of the Bible as purely Bolhovskoy demonology. And really, who, in addition to Bosch, could be the mutant, the demon, bespectacled man with a head the sad man and the body of the insect, its chitinous shell, jointed legs and scorpionic tail? But actually this is a direct illustration of the text of the Apocalypse, where it is said "Out of the smoke onto the earth came locusts, she was given the same authority that was given on the ground Scorpios (...) the Locusts looked like war horses, kitted out in battle... their faces were as the faces of men..." (Rev. 9:3-7).

The flip side

On the back there is another picture made in the technique of grisaille (FR. grisaille – single color image, usually in grey or brown tones). It is considered the face. This confirms the conjecture that the "Saint John on Patmos" – not a separate product, and the fold of the lost triptych. Judging by the direction of gaze of John, the fold was right.

Back image is a double circle, symbolizing the "all seeing eye" or "eye of salvation" (structurally, it is like a circle of "Seven deadly sins"). At the perimeter of the outer circle are the passion of Christ – scenes of the earthly life of Christ; and in the center, in the so-called "pupil" shows the high rock sitting on her bird. A number of associations here, at least, double. First, the rock legitimately identified with the mountain where John was shown the Revelation, and then the bird is, of course, eagle. Second, no less popular version that is depicted here is not the eagle and the Pelican, which, according to legend, feeds nestlings with his own blood, it is logical to associate with the blood of Christ made for all the sons of God, and then depicted Bosch mount – Calvary.

Author: Anna Yesterday
Digital copy: 2334 × 3508 px
43.3 × 63 cm • 137 dpi • JPEG
39.5 × 59.4 cm • 150 dpi • JPEG
19.8 × 29.7 cm • 300 dpi • JPEG
Digital copy is a high resolution file, downloaded by the artist or artist's representative. The price also includes the right for a single reproduction of the artwork in digital or printed form.
I like18 To the selection19
About the artwork

Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Religious scene

Style of art: Northern Renaissance

Technique: Oil

Materials: Wood

Date of creation: 1505

Size: 63×43.3 cm

Artwork in selections: 19 selections


A link for digital copy downloading will be available right after the payment is processed


Pay on site. We accept Visa, MasterCard, American Express.