Miniature Painting of Saint John the Evangelist with Silver Frame

Miniature Painting of Saint John the Evangelist with Silver Frame

Late 1700s to Early 1800s
unknown artist
Cuzco, Peru
Oil paint and gold on copper with silver frame
Accession Number
Credit Line
Gift of John Critcher Freyer for Frank Barrows Freyer Collection

Unknown artist, Saint John the Evangelist, late 1700s-early 1800s. Oil paint and gold leaf on copper with silver frame; 4¼ × 3½ in. Gift of John Critcher Freyer for Frank Barrows Freyer Collection at the Denver Art Museum, 1971.432.

image height: 4.75 in, 12.0650 cm; image width: 3.5 in, 8.8900 cm; frame height: 8 in, 20.3200 cm; frame width: 6 in, 15.2400 cm; frame depth: 3/8 in, 0.9525 cm
Mayer Center, Latin American Art
Latin American Art
This object is currently on view

Despite its diminutive size and straightforward composition, a closer look at this oil painting on copper of Saint John the Evangelist reveals a complex devotional image. The red curtain indicates that John sits within an interior space, yet the artist has included minute details that allude to various events from the saint’s life. In his left hand John holds a golden chalice from which a snake-like creature emerges. This refers to John being put to the test by a Pagan priest of Ephesus; as recounted by Jacobus de Vorgaine in his Golden Legend (1228-1298), the priest gave John a poisoned chalice, but when John blessed it the poison escaped in the form of a small two-headed dragon. The celestial appearance of the Virgin Mary, the open book on the table, and the eagle holding a quill and ink well in its mouth allude to Saint John’s apocalyptic vision on the island of Patmos where he wrote the Book of Revelation, the last chapter of the New Testament. The artist’s close attention to detail extends to the tears that fill John’s eyes, as the saint looks passionately up at his vision of the Mother of God. Likely used by a wealthy individual for private contemplation in a home or monastery, the viewer may have taken John’s fervent devoutness to the Virgin Mary as a model for his or her own devotions. 

The small painting is surrounded by an elaborate, neoclassical silver frame. As it encircles the saint, the finely worked silver underscores the preciousness of the devotional image. The frame is also a work of art in of itself, composed of delicate textile, floral, and vegetal motifs. At top and bottom, the silver forms ribbons tied into loose bows. Pomegranates sit among the ribbons and on either side of the frame are bunches of grapes that hang from vines. Although the painting may date to the 1700s or earlier, the frame’s style and imagery is consistent with other silver frames made in Cuzco, Peru in the early 1800s.

--Sabena Kull, 2017-18 Mayer Fellow for Spanish Colonial Art

Known Provenance
Gifted 4 February 1971 by John Critcher Freyer [1923-1992] to the Denver Art Museum. Provenance research is on-going at the Denver Art Museum. Please e-mail, if you have questions, or if you have additional information to share with us.