February 6th 2021

“St Mark the Evangelist”, Andrea Mantegna,   c. 1448 -51, Städel Museum, Frankfurt.  You can view the painting in higher resolution at

This small painting of St Mark the Evangelist owes much to the Eastern tradition of icon painting.   But unlike in an icon, there is a fictive stone frame with inscription written on a fictive piece of folded parchment attached.   Although some of the letters are lost it is thought that it originally read above the central fold ,  “Peace to you Mark, renowned Evangelist of  magnanimous Venice”  and below it “The work of Andrea Mantegna.”   Centuries before, Venice had adopted St Mark as its patron saint.   To the legend  of  of how his relics were acquired  was  added another in which St Mark,  while sailing through that part of the lagoon where Venice would later be built, is told by an angel in a dream that this was where his body would come to rest.  These legends claimed for Venice a destiny ordained by God and the protection and intercession of St Mark.  Mantegna uses foreshortening and the stone framing to suggest an interface between this world and heavenly realm of the saints.  St Mark appears as a real three dimensional figure who, along with the Gospel Book, cuts through the picture plane into our world.   To my eye, something of the direct and rapid pace of Mark’s Gospel is evoked here in the way Mantegna brings St Mark into such close contact with us.   His right arm almost reaches out to us, but holds back.  The pose and lighting draws our attention to the raised hand and finger and in turn to the Saint’s right ear and eye.  In his Gospel, Mark lays emphasis on the importance of hearing the Word of God and keeping it.  For example,  in Chapter 4 in which Jesus teaches in parables, the verb “to hear” is used 11 times.  But the raised finger also directs us to his eyes.  Mantegna’s St Mark stares into the distance as if looking inwardly to the glorious destiny of Venice but, perhaps,  also to those who would hear the Gospel and believe.  The apple on the ledge speaks surely of the fall and sin.  Mantegna attaches it to a broken branch as if had been pulled off the tree with force. Both the broken branch and the apple symbolise the reality of sin and our  need for repentance, and there may be in this an echo of the call to repentance with which Mark’s Gospel begins.    The lavish bunches of fruit above the Saint would then suggest  promise of the rich harvest awaiting those who believe (Mk 4:8). 


Edinburgh Catholic Chaplaincy

The Catholic Chaplaincy serves the students and staff of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University.

The Catholic Chaplaincy is also a parish of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh (the Parish of St Albert the Great) and all Catholic students and staff are automatically members of this parish.

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