The Martyrdom of St. John the Evangelist, c. 1496-1498
woodcut on laid paper
39 x 28.1 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 15115)
The subject of this first print from the series of woodcuts of "The Apocalypse" is not contained in the Book of Revelation, but was included by Dürer to identify the author as St. John the Evangelist. According to the "Golden Legend", a collection of saints’ lives compiled in the Middle Ages, John was brought to Rome by the emperor Domitian and condemned to die in a cauldron of boiling oil for refusing to renounce his faith. He survived the ordeal without physical injury and was banished to the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, where he recorded the Book of Revelation.
Judging by the dress and armour worn by the bystanders, as well as the architecture of the nearby buildings, Dürer has set the scene in sixteenth-century Nuremberg - or perhaps Venice, which he visited in 1495. The depiction of Domitian as a Turkish sultan readily identifies him as an opponent of Christianity.