(b. 1541, Candia, d. 1614, Toledo)

Sts John the Evangelist and Francis

c. 1600
Oil on canvas, 110 x 87 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

The two saints, with their elongated bodies and suffering faces, loom large in the foreground, set against a sky full of lead grey clouds. Against this sky, Francis displays his wounded hands - the saint is said to have miraculously received the stigmata of Christ on the Cross.

St John is holding a golden chalice from which a winged dragon is emerging. This detail is a rare iconography referring to an episode in the saint's life related in Jacopo Varagine's Golden Legend. It relates that the priest of the temple of Diana in Ephesus asked John to show the power of his Christian faith by drinking from a cup of poison. To demonstrate its effects, the priest had two prisoners drink from the chalice first, both of whom died on the spot. Not only was John immune to the effects of the poison but, after drinking it, he also resuscitated the two dead prisoners. The depiction of the chalice and the dragon became the symbol of the contraposition between the Church and Satan, a theme particularly dear to the Catholic Counter-reformation, which was intent on fighting protestant heresy in those years.

The paintings of El Greco's mature production, including this one, show his growing tendency to be influenced by the intensely religious climate in Spain at that time. The work is charged with a dramatic, visionary mood designed to arouse a strong spiritual turmoil in the beholder.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.