MADE A MARK: ‘The Lion of St. Mark’ by Vittore Carpaccio (1516)

The word ‘Gospel’ represents a record of Christ deeds and His life. It is equivalent to the Greek word ‘euangelion’ which translates as ‘good news’. The origins of this word can be traced to the Romans who designated the date of Caesar’s birth as ‘euangelion’ (good news) for the whole world. The four evangelists to announce the Good News of Christ in the Bible are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Inspired by the Revelation of St. John the Evangelist (4: 6 – 7) and the visions of Ezekiel (1: 5 -14), the Early Christian artist often depicted each gospel writer with a winged figure. Although subject to varied interpretation, St. Jerome envisioned the man (Matthew) as a representative of the Incarnation, the lion (Mark) a representative of the Resurrection, the bull (Luke) a representative of the Passion and the eagle (John) as a representative of the Ascension.

The painting ‘The Lion of St. Mark’ unfurls with a rumbling roar. In the central foreground of the painting stands the majestic creature of Venice. His soft bronze eyes betray his fierce being while his noble nose bridges onto an odd beam. The feline’s face is surrounded by a magnificent mane, unruly and unkempt, a threat to its tame. His sinewy silhouette shields the sea even as his glorious wings flutter against the volcanic breeze. In fight and flight this lion of Venice dons no crown rather the halo he sports hearkens to the saint he resounds. The book the lion upholds bears the long-established and honoured inscription. It reads: PAX TIBI MAR CE E VANGELIS TA MEUS which translates as ‘Peace to you, Mark the Evangelist.’

The Evangelist Mark never met the historical Christ, yet he was one of the most important figures to preach the Good News in the 1st century. It is rumoured that Mark was baptized by St. Peter. He was appointed Bishop of Aquileia in north east Italy. He often travelled by boat around the islands that surrounded Aquileia which was soon to become Venice. On one such journey an angel of the Lord, appeared to him as a winged lion and said, ‘Peace to you, Mark my Evangelist. Here will your body rest’.  This prophecy was adopted as the anthem of the Venetian state.

As legend states, on Peter’s advice Mark the Evangelist is said to have travelled to Egypt and was appointed the first Bishop of Alexandria. However, as fate would have it, in 68 AD on Easter day he was arrested and dragged through the streets until death. His followers buried him with great respect in the Church in town.

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