Saint John of Nepomuk

Brief tour through some details of the painting

Saint John of Nepomuk by AnonymousColonial Museum

In the Colony, the representation of saints was reiterated, this was a way of teaching the values under which they sought to form this society. Among the images produced, the figure of John of Nepomuk, a 14th century saint, was widely spread.

The story of John of Nepomuk, like that of many saints, is poorly documented and is based mainly on legends. Originally from Nepomuk, in the region of Bohemia, now the Czech Republic, he has ordained priest under the rule of Saint Augustine. His sermons achieved recognition; with them he even won the admiration of King Wenceslaus IV. He became bishop of the Cathedral of Prague towards the end of the 14th century and vicar of Archbishop Genzestein until he died, in 1393.

Following the tradition, in this painting from the Colonial Museum, he is depicted dressed in rich garments: black cassock, surplice, and an ermine fur cloak. This last garment is a sign that he preferred death to impurity, a conviction that led him to his martyrdom and subsequent death.

On the canvas, the saint contemplates a crucifix that he holds in his right hand, and that confirm us his commitment to the Church; with the opposite hand he holds a biretta.

On the left of the saint, a small angel holds a white miter, a symbol of the prelate’s chastity, and an episcopal staff, a cane with a curved end used by bishops in liturgical ceremonies. These two elements illustrate the important religious position that Saint John attained during his lifetime.

On the right, there is another angel. It is the only figure in the artwork that directs its gaze toward the viewer and seeks to establish a connection with him/her. In his hands, he holds a palm leaf, which indicates that the saint suffered martyrdom before his death.

Saint John was the confessor of Queen Joan of Holland, wife of Wenceslaus IV, who at some point had suspicions that his wife was unfaithful. The monarch urged the saint to break the secret of confession. John refused. His refusal led him to cut himself out his tongue, and to the monarch to martyr him and threw him alive into the Vltava River (in present-day Prague).

Thus, in the lower segment of the canvas, we see a group of men on one side of the bridge. Four of them have the saint grabbed by the feet, moments before throwing him into the water.

According to those who scooped the lifeless body of the saint, five stars shone in the place where Saint John was thrown, which would later become an attribute of the canon. This representation is of great importance, as in most colonial images, the stars usually appear in the form of a halo over the head of Saint John, not over the water.

It was the Society of Jesus that, from the middle of the 18th century, promoted the veneration of Saint John of Nepomuk. The Jesuits, in fact, adopted his image and promoted it as a symbol against defamation and calumny, especially after his canonization, in 1721.

The saint, moreover, has consolidated as a model for confessors to follow, as this practice was of great importance after the Council of Trent (1545-1563).

With the image of John, then, the silence was promoted among priests and clergy as a practice and lifestyle.

Credits: Story

Museum Director
María Constanza Toquica Clavijo
Manuel Amaya Quintero
Anamaría Torres Rodríguez
María Isabel Téllez Colmenares
Collection Management
Paula Ximena Guzmán López
Tanit Barragán Montilla
Andrea Valentina Bastidas Cano

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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