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The Martyrdom of Saint John
Flandrin’s first major commission was for a series of murals in the Chapel of Saint John at the Church of Saint-Séverin, in the Latin Quarter...The subjects for the murals, which had already been chosen by the parish clergy in cooperation with the prefecture, were the Calling of Saint John, the Martyrdom of Saint John, the Last Supper, and Saint John on Patmos. Flandrin probably created the four oil paintings in the Snite Museum collection to show the client how the final compositions would appear on the walls of the chapel. … The final murals in the Chapel of Saint John are nearly identical to the Snite Museum’s four small oil paintings. If these were indeed the original images presented for approval by the parish and the officials of the prefecture, then Flandrin made very few changes in transferring his compositions to the walls of the chapel. … The composition is balanced and restrained, in spite of the gruesome image of Saint John being boiled in oil. Although the Roman onlookers’ gestures indicate that they are disturbed by the event they are witnessing, they nonetheless do not turn away from this attempted execution. The tale ends miraculously, as Saint John survived this attack without harm and instead was banished by the Roman emperor Domitian to the island of Patmos. In the final version of this scene on the wall of the chapel, Flandrin made one key change from the Snite Museum painting: he repositioned the figure of Saint John from a frontal view to a three-quarters view, which allows the visitor to better observe the saint’s calm demeanor in the face of death.
from Weisberg, Breaking the Mold: The Legacy of the Noah L. and Muriel S. Butkin Collection of Nineteenth-Century French Art (Notre Dame, 2012)