(b. ca. 1450, 's-Hertogenbosch, d. 1516, 's-Hertogenbosch)
St John the Evangelist on Patmos1504-05
Oil on oak panel, 63 x 43,3 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin
St John the Evangelist sits on a hill in the foreground of the painting. He holds an open book in his left hand and a writing quill in his right hand. From the hill the view extends across a river landscape reminiscent of the Lower Rhine, but meant to be the island of Patmos, where John received the Revelation of the Apocalypse. An angel points towards the sky, where the Woman of the Apocalypse has appeared. Since the Middle Ages this heavenly vision has been identified with the Madonna. The bird at the bottom left is a falcon - a reference to the symbolic animal of the Evangelist, the eagle. The bird guards its master's writing tools, which a demon is trying to steal. Demons also throng the dark reverse of the panel.
Perhaps influenced by earlier representations of this subject, Bosch for once restrained his predilection for demonic spectacles. There are, to be sure, several ships burning in the water at lower left, and a little monster can be seen at lower right, both details probably suggested by St John's Apocalypse, but neither seriously disturbs the idyllic landscape in which the saint enjoys his vision.