Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Saint John on Patmos

Hans Baldung (called Hans Baldung Grien) (German, Schwäbisch Gmünd (?) 1484/85–1545 Strasbourg (Strassburg))
ca. 1511
Oil, gold, and white metal on spruce
Overall 35 1/4 x 30 1/4 in. (89.5 x 76.8 cm); painted surface 34 3/8 x 29 3/4 in. (87.3 x 75.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Rogers and Fletcher Funds; The Vincent Astor Foundation, The Dillon Fund, The Charles Engelhard Foundation, Lawrence A. Fleischman, Mrs. Henry J. Heinz II, The Willard T. C. Johnson Foundation Inc., Reliance Group Holdings Inc., Baron H. H. Thyssen-Bornemisza, and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman Gifts; Joseph Pulitzer Bequest; special funds; and other gifts and bequests, by exchange, 1983
Accession Number:
Rights and Reproduction:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 643
A painter and printmaker of great originality, Baldung was trained in Dürer’s Nuremberg studio before he established his own workshop in Strasbourg in 1509. This painting shows Saint John in exile on the island of Patmos, experiencing a vision of the Virgin as he writes his Book of Revelation. The panel originally joined two others—Saint Anne with the Christ Child, the Virgin, and Saint John the Baptist (National Gallery of Art, Washington) and the Mass of Saint Gregory (Cleveland Museum of Art)—to form a triptych, commissioned by the Order of Sankt Johann in Jerusalem at Grünenwörth in Strasbourg.
Exiled by the emperor Domitian to the island of Patmos, the youthful Saint John the Evangelist writes the Book of Revelation in the codex on his knees. An apocalyptic Virgin appears to him in a vision; she is "a woman clothed with the sun, and with the moon under her feet." This text from Revelation 12:1 became identified with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin, by which she was exempt from original sin from birth. At Saint John’s feet is his attribute, the eagle, standing on a precious book that symbolizes the divine inspiration that compels the saint to record what is revealed to him by the celestial appearance of the Virgin and Child.

This painting is signed at the lower right with the monogram of Hans Baldung Grien, a feature of his works that began to appear after 1510. Carl Koch (1953) was the first to recognize the relationship of this painting to two others since accepted as part of the same altarpiece or altar frontal. Along with the Museum’s panel, the St. Anne with the Christ Child, the Virgin, and St. John the Baptist (National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1961.9.62) once flanked a central panel, The Mass of St. Gregory (Cleveland Museum of Art, 52.112). Koch also suggested (1957) that these paintings were commissioned for the Order of Saint John at Grünen Wörth near Strasbourg, a notion that Gert von der Osten (1977) supported by documentary evidence of payments to Baldung in 1511. During the Thirty Years’ War, the Order of Saint John had to vacate their buildings; in 1635 the church at Grünen Wörth was destroyed, and its contents likely moved elsewhere for safekeeping. In 1687, the order moved into the cloister of Saint Marx in Strasbourg, remaining there until the French Revolution. It is here that the three panels are listed separately in the 1741 inventory, probably having been dismantled during the troubled times at Grünen Wörth.

While most scholars have accepted von der Osten’s reconstruction of the stationary triptych as an altarpiece, Hasse (1978) alternatively suggested that the three panels formed an antependium or altar frontal. Hugelshofer (1978) proposed that the two Saint John panels were painted several years before the Cleveland one and did not form an ensemble. However, as John Hand (1993) pointed out, the documentary evidence cited above, stylistic considerations, and technical evidence of the three paintings confirm von der Osten’s reconstruction. The figure types are similar as are the puffy, bloated faces with their distinctive haloes. The palette of the three paintings, including acid- and yellow-greens, bright reds, and orange-reds, along with sharply contrasting flesh tones that depend on unblended strokes of white highlights are technically consistent in all three paintings.

The Saint John on Patmos and the two associated paintings belong to Baldung’s relatively early works. After serving as an apprentice in Dürer’s Nuremberg studio from 1503 to around 1507, Baldung moved to Strasbourg in 1509 and established his own workshop. The apprenticeship to Dürer influenced Baldung’s strongly graphic approach. For this composition, he turned to an engraving of 1469–74 by Martin Schongauer that similarly shows the saint in the lower right-hand corner looking up at a celestial vision of the Virgin and Child of the Apocalypse. Baldung’s composition must have been influential locally, for it seems to have inspired a woodcut of Saint John on Patmos by Hans Wechtlin, who was active in Strasbourg from 1514 and became a master in 1519.

The underdrawing (see Additional Images), with its bold delineation of form and its prominent, even parallel- and cross-hatching, superimposed by short, curved strokes for the modeling of the Virgin’s draperies—all juxtaposed with broad, unmodeled areas—can be closely compared to Baldung’s execution in both his drawings and woodcuts of around 1511. These examples include a Virgin and Child (Rijksuniversiteit, Prentenkabinett, Leiden) and a Saint Christopher (British Museum, London).
[2013; adapted from Ainsworth 2013]
The support is composed of seven boards of spruce from southern Germany, with the grain oriented vertically.
Dendrochronological analysis indicated an earliest possible fabrication date of 1499. The panel exhibits an undulating convex transverse warp, several vertical splits, and significant insect damage. There are shallow bevels on the reverse along the top and bottom. A barbe around the entire perimeter indicates that an engaged frame was in place when the white ground was applied. There is an incised line along the perimeter of the painted area.
The painting is generally in very good condition. There are some small losses along the joins and splits in the wood panel as well as other minor losses and abrasions throughout. The mottled brown appearance visible throughout the landscape and foliage is characteristic of a common discoloration seen in paint layers containing copper-green pigments. The halos and the clasp and five decorative bosses on the book have a matte appearance characteristic of oil gilding applied over a bright orange mordant. The crescent moon upon which the Virgin stands is made with white metal leaf, now reinforced with restoration paint. An amber-hued resinous coating is present on the halos of the Virgin and Child and on the crescent moon. The wide brown band decorating the outer portion of the Virgin’s double halo was originally a transparent green. The gilded clasp and bosses are abraded and show significant repair.
Infrared reflectography (see Additional Images, fig. 1) revealed extensive underdrawing in a fluid medium, some of which is visible in normal light. The underdrawing has a free, lively quality and features a distinctive looped hatching to indicate areas of shadow. It was closely followed, although the heads of the Virgin and Child were brought slightly closer to each other in the final composition.
[2013; adapted from German Paintings catalogue]
Inscription: Signed (lower right, on rock): HBG [monogram]
Church of the Order of Saint John in Jerusalem, Grünen Wörth, near Strasbourg (1511–1633; cloister destroyed and possessions placed in storage, 1633–about 1687; relocated to the church in the monastery of Saint Mark, Strasbourg, 1687–at least 1741, inv. no. 25; possessions dispersed during the French Revolution, after 1789); a village church, Alsace (until shortly after 1870); Dr. Georges-Joseph Wimpfen, Colmar (shortly after 1870–d. 1879); his son, Général Joseph-Émile Georges Wimpfen, Paris (1879–?until d. 1949); [P. de Boer, Amsterdam, until 1955; sold to Becker]; Dr. Heinrich Becker, Dortmund (1955–71; sale, Sotheby's, London, December 8, 1971, no. 28, sold for £120,000 to Virch); [Claus Virch, Paris, 1971–83; on extended loan to the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, 1975–83; sold to Thaw]; [Eugene Thaw, New York, 1983; sold to MMA]
Amsterdam. Kunsthandel P. de Boer. "Old Pictures Exhibited at the Gallery of . . . P. de Boer," Summer–September 15, 1955, unnumbered cat.

Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe. "Hans Baldung Grien," July 4–September 27, 1959, no. 15 (lent by Dr. Becker, Dortmund).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Exceptional Acquisitions, 1983–1984," May 8–September 2, 1984, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Gothic and Renaissance Art in Nuremberg, 1300–1550," April 8–June 22, 1986, no. 179b.

Nuremberg. Germanisches Nationalmuseum. "Nürnberg 1300–1550: Kunst der Gotik und Renaissance," July 24–September 28, 1986, no. 179b.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions," October 24, 2008–February 1, 2009, online catalogue.

F.-G. Pariset. "Deux oeuvres inédites de Baldung Grien." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 11 (1934), pp. 13–14, 21–23, fig. 3, dates this picture and the Saint Anne with the Christ Child, the Virgin, and Saint John the Baptist (National Gallery of Art, Washington) to 1511–12; notes that Dr. Wimpfen bought both panels from a village church in Alsace and observes that they must have been the wings of a small altarpiece; states that Baldung only depicted the theme of Saint John on Patmos in two other examples: a woodcut published in Strasbourg, 1516, and in the righthand panel of the Schnewlin altarpiece (1513–15; Fribourg-en-Brisgau Cathedral) [see Ref. Osten 1983, no. W97, who attributes the Schnewlin altarpiece to Baldung's workshop between 1515–16].

F.-G. Pariset. "L'Art et l'humanisme en Alsace." Revue d'Alsace 90 (1939), p. 19 n. 3, states that the Baldung woodcut depicting a similarly calm Saint John the Evangelist was published in 1512 [1513; see Notes], between the execution of our panel and the Schnewlin altarpiece [of 1515].

Otto Fischer. Hans Baldung Grien. Munich, 1939, pp. 9, 20, dates this picture and the National Gallery panel about 1510.

Helmut Perseke. Hans Baldungs Schaffen in Freiburg. Freiburg, 1941, pp. 49, 66–67, fig. 9.

Carl Koch. "Katalog der erhaltenen Gemälde, der Einblattholzschnitte und illustrierten Bücher von Hans Baldung-Grien." Kunstchronik 6 (November 1953), p. 297, dates this picture, the National Gallery panel, and the Mass of Saint Gregory (Cleveland Museum of Art) to 1511.

Carl Koch. Letter. June 26, 1957, notes that the Mass of Saint Gregory (Cleveland Museum of Art) was without doubt painted for the Order of Saint John in Strasbourg; surmises that the MMA and National Gallery panels were also painted for this order and dates them about 1511.

Carl Koch. Letter to Cleveland Museum of Art. May 24, 1958, reiterates that the three panels were painted for the Order of Saint John in Strasbourg, in 1511 [see Ref. Koch 1957].

Werner Zimmermann in Hans Baldung Grien. Ed. Jan Lauts. Exh. cat., Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe. Karlsruhe, 1959, pp. 42, 346, no. 15, pl. 7, suggests that the MMA and National Gallery panels were probably the wings of a carved shrine, and does not connect them with the Cleveland panel (no. 16); publishes Baldung's related woodcut for the title page of "P. Terentius poeta comicus in sua metra restitutus," Strasbourg, 1513.

Hans Möhle. "Hans Baldung Grien: Zur Karlsruher Baldung-Ausstellung Sommer 1959." Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 22, no. 2 (1959), p. 128, notes that Baldung later revisited the theme of Saint John on Patmos in the Schnewlin altarpiece, after he had come into contact with Grünewald.

G. Tolzien in Kindlers Malerei Lexikon. Ed. Rolf Linnenkamp. Vol. 1, Zürich, 1964, p. 185, calls the MMA and National Gallery panels probably the wings of a carved shrine, dating them about 1511, along with the Cleveland picture .

Rolf Fritz. Sammlung Becker. Vol. 1, Gemälde Alter Meister. Dortmund, 1967, no. 1, ill. n.p. (color), dates our panel about 1511.

Gert von der Osten. "Ein Altar des Hans Baldung Grien aus dem Jahre 1511—und eine Frage nach verschollenen Werken des Malers." Zeitschrift des deutschen Vereins für Kunstwissenschaft 31 (1977), pp. 51–53, 58–61, figs. 5, 7–8 (overall, detail, and photographic assemblage of the triptych), publishes excerpts from a 1741 inventory of the treasures of the Order of Saint John in Grünen Wörth, in which a Mass of Saint Gregory, a Saint John on Patmos, and a Saint Anne with the Christ Child, the Virgin and Saint John the Baptist are listed consecutively (nos. 24–26) as panels hanging in the sacristy of the order house; identifies these pictures as the Cleveland, MMA, and National Gallery panels and concludes that they were originally created as a nonfolding triptych, but dismembered sometime during the relocation of the order during the 17th century; also connects these paintings with two entries dated 1510–11 from the order's account books in which payments totaling 24 gulden were made to Hans Baldung "fur altar," and notes that though this wording can be interpreted as an antependium or altar frontal, it is most likely an abbreviation for the painting of an altarpiece.

Colin Eisler. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. Vol. 4, European Schools Excluding Italian. London, 1977, pp. 29–30, fig. 8, calls this painting a pendant to the National Gallery panel and considers it likely that they were both commissioned by the Order of Saint John, along with the Cleveland panel, observing that all three "could have been incorporated in some common format".

Max Hasse. Letter to Gert von der Osten. May 13, 1978 [cited in Ref. Osten 1983, p. 72], based on his understanding of the expression "fur altar" used in the Order of Saint John account books [see Ref. Osten 1977], suggests that the three panels formed an antependium, or altar frontal, with fixed side panels.

W. Hugelshofer. Letter to Gert von der Osten. June 1978 [cited in Ref. Osten 1983, p. 74], on stylistic grounds, proposes that the two Saint John panels were painted several years before the one in Cleveland and did not belong to the same altarpiece.

François-Georges Pariset. "Réflexions à propos de Hans Baldung Grien." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 94 (1979), p. 2, accepts von der Osten's reconstruction of the altarpiece [see Ref. Osten 1977].

Jean Kubota Cassill in "European Paintings of the 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries." Cleveland Museum of Art: Catalogue of Paintings. part 3, Cleveland, 1982, pp. 161–62, calls the MMA and National Gallery panels "stylistically consistent" with the Cleveland painting.

Gert von der Osten. Hans Baldung Grien: Gemälde und Dokumente. Berlin, 1983, pp. 66–69, 72–74, no. 12b, pp. 257–58, pls. 33, 36 (overall and detail), calls the MMA and National Gallery panels "Two Wings of an Altar (?)" and suggests the panels' small size indicates they were located on the altar of a sacristy or private chapel; cites the opinions of Hasse and Hugelshofer [see Refs. 1978] and is open to the possibility that the three panels served as an altar frontal as Hasse suggests.

"Private Line: Cheap at Twice the Price." Connoisseur 214 (August 1984), p. 117, discusses the picture's recent provenance and sale.

Mary Sprinson de Jesús in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1983–1984. New York, 1984, pp. 3, 64, ill. cover (color) and p. 64, notes that the acquisition of this painting addresses the lack of early 16th century German religious painting in the MMA collection; calls it "almost perfectly preserved" and comments that "the composition seems to have been highly regarded by both the artist and his patrons, since some years later it was adapted by a member of Baldung's workshop" in the Schnewlin altarpiece.

John Russell. "Art: Small Met Show Highlights Acquisitions." New York Times (May 25, 1984), p. C21.

J[ohann]. E[ckart]. von Borries. "Hans Baldung Grien: Gemälde und Dokumente, by Gert von der Osten." Burlington Magazine 127 (February 1985), pp. 97–98, sees a "decisive contribution by Baldung" in the wings of the Schnewlin altarpiece, particularly in the depiction of Saint John on Patmos, noting that its expressive power "far surpasses" that of the MMA panel.

Guy Bauman in Gothic and Renaissance Art in Nuremberg, 1300–1550. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1986, pp. 375–79, no. 179b, ill. p. 376 (photographic assemblage of the triptych), p. 378 (color) [German ed., 1986], considers it likely that the panels formed a small triptych with stationary wings, which explains why the backs of the wings were not painted; discusses the iconographic unity of the three panels in their depiction of the three mysteries of Christian theology.

Introduction by James Snyder in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Renaissance in the North. New York, 1987, pp. 15, 102, pl. 70 (color).

Christian Heck. "Baldung Grien's Grünen Wörth Altarpiece and Devotion to the Two St. Johns." Metropolitan Museum Journal 27 (1992), pp. 85–86, 91–92, 96–97, fig. 1 (photographic assemblage of the triptych), fig. 4, discusses the importance of the theme of the two Saint Johns in the art and religious life of the Rhine Valley and its special significance to Rulman Merswin, founder of the commandery of Grünen Wörth; notes that the subject of the two Saint Johns recurs in works of art known to have decorated the monastery; observes that in 1378 the church of the commandery was explicitly dedicated to the two Saint Johns, but agrees with van der Osten [Ref. 1983] that the small size of the Baldung altarpiece make it improbable that it was placed on the altar of a church; believes it was most likely placed on the altar of a sacristy or a private chapel within the commandery .

John Oliver Hand. German Paintings of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries. Washington, 1993, pp. 15–16, 18–19, figs. 4, 5 (photographic assemblage of the triptych), confirms date of around 1511 for all three panels and provides detailed provenance and iconographic summary; notes that infrared reflectography revealed homogeneous underdrawing in all three pictures and comments that "this particular combination of scenes is apparently unique" in its illustration of Christ's incarnation, sacrifice, and second coming.

Sibylle Gross in Hans Baldung Grien in Freiburg. Exh. cat., Augustinermuseum. Freiburg, 2001, p. 309, discusses the MMA and National Gallery panels as prototypes for the execution of the Schnewlin altarpiece by Baldung's workshop.

Burton L. Dunbar. The Collections of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: German and Netherlandish Paintings, 1450–1600. Kansas City, Mo., 2005, p. 63.

Keith Christiansen in Philippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977–2008. New York, 2009, p. 36.

Karen E. Thomas in German Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. New Haven, 2013, p. 11.

Maryan W. Ainsworth in German Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. New Haven, 2013, pp. 20–25, 280–81, no. 2, ill. (color) and figs. 18 (altarpiece reconstruction), 22 (color detail), 24–25 (infrared reflectogram details).

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