The Penance of St John Chrysostom Albrecht Durer Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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The Penance of St John Chrysostom is a 1497 engraving painted by Albrecht Durer. In the late middle ages, St. John Chrysostom is said to have kissed the image of the Holy Virgin, a desperate measure to escape poverty. He later wore a golden circle around his neck, known as the Greek Chrysostomos.

At the age of sixteen, the pope ordained him as a priest, but he felt unworthy of the offer and left to become a desert hermit. The daughter of the emperor is said to have lost her way during a storm, and it is at this point when she found shelter in the saint’s cave where they sinned. It was after fathering a child with her that the saint threw her off a cliff. Betrayal and weakness took the best of him, and he vowed to walk on allfours until he was absolved of his sins. By sheer luck, the girl was found with her child, and John the saint was forgiven. The focus Durer takes on this painting is that of the love of a mother to her child.

Despite many scholars viewing the painting as an opportunity for the artist to display female nudity and not the repentant saint seen in the background, it is also believed that Durer was more focused on illustrating a mother’s pure love and its triumph over sin. The painting presents a luminous unique impression, suggesting a more linear version of the artist’s stipple engraving style. It is characterised by varying shades and small dots in different sizes. In this composition, the princess and her child who were found alive after many years are presented in the foreground, while John is seen crawling in the background.

The Life of the Virgin II; The Angel Appears to Joachim is a 1504 painting done by Albrecht Durer. The artist here focuses in the events around the life of St Anne and Joachim, present in the proto gospel of Mathew, James and the birth of the Virgin. The High priest is said to have refused to accept the offering given by Joachim, because he had no children. As he prays in the field, an angel is seen flying towards Joachim to inform him that his marriage would be blessed with a daughter who was to be named Mary. The Virgin in this painting is presented in both divine and earthly settings. The images are painted in perfect mastery.

The Life of the Virgin III; The Meeting of Joachim and Anna at the Golden Gate is a 1504 painting by Durer, a follow-up of the Life of the Virgin II. Here, Joachim and his wife are seen embracing at the Golden Gate soon after they receive the news that they would bear a child. A small group beside them is seen observing them. The image is complete with animal forms, vines and figures.