Martyrdom of John the Divine by Albrecht Durer

Martyrdom of John the Divine by Albrecht Durer

“Martyrdom of John the Theologian” – the first engraving in the series “Apocalypse”. In the text of the book “Revelation” of John the Theologian, this event does not exist.

The artist sharply contrasted two human images. Emperor Domitian – an old bearded man, commanded to torture John, is seated on a carved throne. On the emperor a long cloak, lined with ermine, hangs gold chains from his neck, a precious stone on his chest, and a scepter in his hand. Black and white stroke creates a feeling of colored fabric, shiny metal, sparkling diamond. Domitian is huge and immovable. His eyes are fixed on the naked John.

Under the boiler, in which John is cast, fire burns. The executioner is pouring on his back boiling oil. John’s face is sad, but not distorted by flour. He does not look at the emperor, does not expect mercy from him, does not notice either his retinue or crowds. The executioner, laying his sword aside, fanned the fire with blacksmith’s furs. It’s all the same type of dandy tormented torturer with a thin face – an image that does not give rest to Durer. And the other executioner-his shaven head, his crumpled face, does not dare look at the one he tortures.

The most amazing thing about engraving is the crowd. It is visible only a few people, on a variety of types creates sensation of multitude. A woman is pulling her neck – just to not miss anything! The man she pushed away turned angrily. Now a quarrel will break out. The old man with an emaciated face looks at John with compassion. And his neighbor says something edifying, probably: “Himself to blame!”

In the foreground is a man in a cloak. His posture is independent. He pointedly moved away from the throne. The look is directed at the one who is tortured. In his face, they sometimes see a resemblance to Durer. It is difficult to assert this with determination. This man, barely concealing the shock, makes himself peer into what is happening. He stands not far from the emperor and his entourage, but he is a stranger to them. He is not dressed like they are. This is a silent witness. That formidable eyewitness, who is always visibly or invisibly present at the crime, to tell the descendants about him.

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