The Penance of St John Chrysostom (c.1496) by Albrecht Durer

The Penance of St John Chrysostom - Albrecht Durer - c.1496

Artwork Information

TitleThe Penance of St John Chrysostom
ArtistAlbrecht Durer
Art MovementNorthern Renaissance

About The Penance of St John Chrysostom

“The Penance of St John Chrysostom,” created around 1496, is a work by Albrecht Durer, a pivotal figure of the Northern Renaissance. This religious pen-and-ink drawing reflects the period’s characteristic attention to detail and interest in religious themes.

In this artwork, we can observe a detailed, highly expressive scene set in a wilderness environment. The central figure is St. John Chrysostom, depicted with long hair and a beard, showing signs of age or perhaps the wear of penitential living. His gaze is downward, focused on a child he appears to be nurturing. This act suggests humility and a return to basic human kindness as a form of penance.

The wilderness setting is rendered with a fine attention to natural detail, a typical feature of Durer’s work. The rocks, foliage, and distant landscape—featuring a town and people going about their daily tasks—showcase the artist’s skill in creating texture and depth, even in a monochromatic medium. The inclusion of the deer in the foreground adds a sense of peaceful coexistence with nature, underlining the theme of retreat from worldly affairs.

Durer’s signature monogram “AD” can be seen near the center bottom of the drawing, verifying the work as his own. The use of light and shadow, the intricate line work, and the composition all serve to engage the viewer in a contemplative narrative drawn from Christian hagiography.

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