John The Apostle and Evangelist

The Statue

John was the youngest in the group of Apostles and is always portrayed as young and beardless. He is standing with a writing tablet and an eagle by his feet. He was a son of Zebedee and brother of James (The Greater), and the two are also known as ’The Sons of Thunder’.

The Story

In the tradition John is seen as “the one whom Jesus loved”, and thus he is also the one Jesus mentions on the Cross. Jesus says to Mary (about John): “’Dear woman, here is your son.’ And he said to this disciple, ’Here is your mother’". According to tradition, John is the author of the Gospel of John, the Epistles and the Book of Revelation. That is, however, highly unlikely. In the arts he is either portrayed with the three evangelists, Matthew, Luke and Mark, or with the Apostles. As an Apostle he usually holds a chalice: a cup from which a snake emerges. In Church of Our Lady however, John is characterised by his evangelist-emblem, an eagle; furthermore, he is holding a tablet, ready to write down his gospel.

Portraying him in the role of evangelist is extremely unusual when he is with the Apostles, and it is unlikely that Thorvaldsen has seen such portrayal in other churches. He has definitely made a conscious decision to do so, because he portrays Matthew in the same manner. As an Apostle Matthew often holds a numbers board or a bag of money as his characteristic, but as an evangelist he is identified by a winged man following him, the way we see it in Church of Our Lady. The two Gospels represent the beginning, the incarnation and the end, the resurrection, which can be the reason for the prominent location and unusual iconography.
The symbols of the four evangelists are: John’s eagle, Matthew’s angel, Mark’s lion and Luke’s ox. Their origin is partly Ezekiel’s vision and partly the Book of Revelation, where four heavenly creatures carry the Throne of God.

The facts

There is a drawn sketch on the back of the statue from a letter dated April 1st, 1821.
Sketch in clay 1821.
In 1823 Giuseppe Pacetti sculpted a version from Thorvaldsen’s sketch, which was rejected, but later reused as Jude Thaddeus, which was also rejected in 1827.
The figure was finally sculpted by Nicolo Marchetti in 1824.