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  • Writer's pictureEthan A. Hayes

A Note on Depictions of the Apostles

Consider how the Medievals recorded their artistic depictions of the apostles:

"St. Bartholomew is represented with black and grizzled hair, fair complexion, large eyes, straight nose, long beard, few grey hairs, moderate height, with a high white neck, clothed in purple, with a white pall, having purple gems at each angle." (Durand. vii, 25, 2).
"St. Andrew had a dark complexion, long beard, moderate height. This is therefore said, that ye may know how he ought to be painted: which should be known of the other apostles and saints." (Durand. vii, 38, i.)
Photo from a Slovakian altarpiece in the Budapest Museum of Fine Art carved in 1512AD

They exhibit precision, and yet seem not bound by the modern's obsession with slavish historical accuracy but rather authenticity. The details chosen feel as if they knew these persons as people (whom they indeed did know by prayer, though separated by over a millennia). These details assuredly depart from the historical reality lost to time and the record seems to express no concern or doubt over that. Ex genera, the Gospels leave no indications that Bartholomew wore purple like a Caesar dripping with amethyst. Nobody cares, it misses the point. Instead of being bound to dull corporeal details, they show the saints as the real people they knew them as, transcended by heavenly grace. The saints were real to these men without pretense, uninfected by any Modernistic quibbling doubts. The Modern ought to learn from these records that the material details of the Gospel are only relevant in as much as they reveal the life of God.


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