Wtewael painted this youthful Saint John, writing with his head upturned as though receiving divine inspiration, as part of a set of the Four Evangelists around 1610-1615. In Wtewael's characteristic manner, St. John's form is elegantly rendered with an elongated neck and fingers. Surrounding him on his table are the accoutrements of a writer, including an ink pot, quill, pounce pot and hourglass, while a brush, scissors, comb and document are fixed to the wall behind him. In contrast to these carefully studied still-life elements is the eagle perched over his shoulder, Saint John's attribute and frequent companion in art.
The other works in this series include Saint Mark (the only signed picture in the group) and Saint Luke now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (inv. SK-A-1697, SK-A-1696) as well as Saint Matthew, today known only through a copy belonging to the Centraal Museum, Utrecht (see Lowenthal, op. cit., no. C-19). The Four Evangelists was a favored theme for Wtewael, who executed at least three series of this subject. The present work belongs to the first series, which may have been in the possession of artist's son, Peter. His inventory lists '3 evangelisten', omitting Saint Matthew and thus suggesting that it was separated from the group soon after its creation (Lowenthal, op. cit., p. 195). These works may be the earliest depiction of the subject in Northern Europe to be made in four discreet paintings, a format likely inspired by the engravings of Lucas van Leyden and Hendrick Goltzius.
A.W. Lowenthal, Joachim Wtewael and Dutch Mannerism, Doornspijk, 1986, pp. 49, 64, 128-129, no. A-56, pl. 80 and possibly p. 195.
Possibly one of the '3 evangelisten' listed in the inventory of the estate of Peter Wtewael, 1661.
With Manhattan Galleries, New York, 1977, as '17th-century Italian'.
Leonard J. Slatkes, New York, until 2003 (†), whence acquired by the present owner.