El Greco (1541-1614)
Saint John, the youngest of the apostles and favourite of Christ, is one of the most beautiful figures of this Apostolate. He holds a golden chalice from which a serpent or dragon rises. According to the Golden Legend of Jacopo della Voragine the priest Aristodemo tried to kill him by making him drink poisoned wine, he drank the poison but didn't die, proving the priest wrong.
On the painting the serpent/dragon represent this poison which he is pointing at while looking toward another of his fellow apostles.
Throughout the 16th century we find in Toledo interesting pictorical representations of the 12 apostles. These creations started with the predella of the main altarpiece in the church of Saint Andrew, a work signed by Juan de Borgoña and Antonio de Cremontes, in which the apotles are depicted half-length, in an attitude of dialogue and with a golden brackground. In El Greco's last years the artist renewed the meaning of these series and turned them into a novel production that was no longer destined to occupy a place in the altarpieces. He designed 13 individual paintings with the images of Christ the Saviour and the 12 apostles, cut out on neutral backgrounds, endowed with monumental form and psychological expresiveness. The apostles are covered with tunic and cloak and are accompanied by identifying attributes of each character. In addition to these attributes, El Greco envisaged, for each apostle, chromatic combinations for their clothes and their own gestures that would become codes of identification of the characters.