It seemed understood among the twelve disciples of Jesus that John was the one of their number especially beloved by the Master. He and his brother, James, were the sons of the fisherman Zebedee, and all three men earned their living in their fishing-boats on the sea of Galilee. It was while they were busy with their nets that Jesus one day called the two brothers to be fishers of men. "And they straightway left their nets and followed him."[13]

[13] St. Matthew, chapter iv., verse 20.

Under the teachings of Jesus, John grew in knowledge of spiritual things. He was one of the three accompanying their Master to the Mount of Transfiguration, where they witnessed a sacred scene withheld from the others. His nature was affectionate and poetic, and he was a deep thinker. Often when the meaning of Jesus' words was beyond his hearers, John treasured the sayings in his memory. On the evening when Jesus sat at table with his disciples for the last time, John was near him, leaning on his Master's breast. When, on the next day, Jesus hung upon the cross, it was John to whom he commended his mother as to a son. "And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home."

In the years that followed, John pursued his Christian service with the zeal of an ardent nature. He remained awhile in Judæa and, in company with Peter, added many converts to the faith. He then carried the work into Asia Minor, where he founded seven churches. Not only was he a preacher and organizer, but a voluminous writer as well. The fourth Gospel is believed to be his work, in which he records many words and deeds of Jesus overlooked by the other Evangelists. He was also the writer of the three Epistles which bear his name. Finally, he is supposed to be the author of the book of Revelation, in which he described his visions during his exile in the isle of Patmos. According to tradition, he lived to a great age, and died at Ephesus in Asia Minor.

The love with which Christians cherish the memory of St. John is seen in the number of churches bearing his name. One such is that in Parma which was newly built at the time when Correggio was winning his first laurels. The most important portions of the interior decorations were executed by our painter.

Before considering the frescoes of the cupola, the visitor to the church likes to pause before the lunette over the door of the left transept. The subject is St. John, seated with his writing materials on his lap. There is a pile of books behind him and a volume beside him. At his feet stands the symbolic eagle pluming his wing.

ST. JOHN THE EVANGELIST Church of S. Giovanni Evangelista, Parma ST. JOHN THE EVANGELIST 
Church of S. Giovanni Evangelista, Parma

The emblems of the Evangelists are drawn from Ezekiel's vision of the "four living creatures," whose faces were those of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. Applied respectively to the writers of the four Gospels, each emblem suggests some characteristic trait. The eagle is especially appropriate to St. John. As the bird soars into the upper regions of the sky and looks directly at the sun, so St. John's inspiration raised him into the highest realms of thought, where he seemed to gaze directly upon the divine glory. It is for this that he is called St. John, "the divine." As the Latin inscription over the lunette reads, "More deeply than the others he disclosed the mysteries of God."[14]

[14] "Altius cœteris Dei patefecit arcana."

In our picture the Evangelist lifts his eyes heavenward as if beholding a vision. His lips are parted, and he has the rapt expression of one absorbed in meditation. His right hand still holds the pen as he pauses for inspiration.

In trying to do honor to the beloved disciple, the painters have always represented him as the most beautiful of the twelve. As the most Christ-like in character, he is made to resemble the typical figure of Christ. So in this fresco by Correggio, he is a beautiful youth, with the curling hair, the oval face and the regular features we associate with the person of Jesus. Though the beardless face is so refined, there is nothing weak or effeminate about it. The whole figure is indeed very manly. The head is well set on a full throat and the shoulders are broad. Rising to his feet St. John would be a tall, athletic young man, capable of lending a strong hand at his father's fishing-nets. The union of strength and refinement makes the picture one of the most attractive ideals of St. John ever painted.

The keynote of St. John's Gospel is the love of God; his ardent nature never wearied of the theme; the wonder in his lifted face shows him still intent upon the mystery. Were we to seek some characteristic utterance which should appropriately interpret his thoughts, it might well be the words of Jesus to Nicodemus, "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."[15]

[15] St. John, chapter iii., verse 16.