I forwarded this appeal to the Medart list because I felt sure there'd be
help from there! Here's the first response.
Pippin Michelli, Ph.D
Assistant Professor of Art History, St Olaf College
From: Amelia Carr <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask] <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Wednesday, August 18, 1999 12:19 PM
Subject: Re: Apostle with Glasses
>Both Matthew and Paul are depicted with swords.
>Matthew's sword is presumably a symbol of his decapitation.
>Paul is considered an apostle in most reckonings, especially medieval. The
>sword recalls his martyrdom, and appears as Paul's primary attribute from
>the 13th century onward. Perhaps in Paul's case, it also evokes the fiery
>Word of God, as in Hebrews 4:12. In Durer's famous painting of the Four
>Apostles, Paul holds the sword, and the examples could be readily
>Glasses appear in northern art as an attribute of the studious. See, for
>example, the sculpture of Jeremiah in Claus Sluter's Moses Well, or the
>Canon van der Paele in the portrait by Jan van Eyck. In Sebastian Brant's
>Ship of Fools, the foolish lover of books is shown as a bespectacled
>scholar in his library. I wouldn't think that wearing glasses became an
>attribute of any specific apostle, but would certainly indicate the
>scholarly, authorial status of either Matthew or Paul.
>I don't have any memory of what the Master Riofrio panel looks like, but
>looking at it again might help you in your identification of the figure.
>Does the image below correspond to something above, as with many predella
>narratives? Can you eliminate either Paul or Matthew as the subject here
>because one of them appears elsewhere in the altarpiece? Does the subject
>matter or patronage imply one over the other? Not knowing any of this, I
>would tentatively identify the figure as Paul, but would hope for
>confirmation by another method.
>Hope this helps,
>[log in to unmask]
>At 11:38 AM 8/18/99 -0500, you wrote:
>>Recently I was in Paris, and had the opportunity to visit the Musee de
>>Cluny. While I was there, I saw a large painting on wood done by the
>>Master of Riofrio. I don't recall much of the rest of the painting,
>>because I was so excited by one of the depictions on the bottom panel.
>>The long bottom panel was of the twelve apostles, and one of the apostles
>>was reading a book held in one hand, holding a sword on the other that
>>rested on his shoulder, and was wearing glasses. He wore a reddish-brown
>>overrobe, with black sleeves and white cuffs underneath. He was close to
>>the end on the right hand side.
>>I have been unable to discover which apostle this is supposed to be. I
>>love the picture: to me it says 'bother me while I'm reading, and I'll hit
>>you with this very big sword' (which I am sure was not the Master's
>>intention). I also saw a similar depiction of this apostle in this mode
>>while I was in Europe, but can't recall if it was at the Louvre, or in
>>Barcelona. I have found some tantalizing references about the symbolic
>>use of glasses in later medieval art, but would appreciate the help of
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