Work on the Apocalypse (see lot 131) began in 1496, a year after Dürer returned from Venice, and the present work is the first print in the series. Unlike the subsequent images it does not illustrate the biblical text, but serves to introduce Saint John as the author of the Apocalypse. It refers to the legend of the saint's life as recorded in Jacobus de Voragine's Legenda Aurea, and in the Passional oder der Heiligen Leben (1488) published by the Nuremberg printer and publisher Anton Koberger, Dürer's godfather. According to the legend, during the reign of Emperor Domitian Saint John was taken captive in Rome and publicly tortured with hot oil. Not unlike the Emperor in the Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand (see previous lot) who oversees the grisly process, Domitian is seen here dressed as a sultan. Oriental dress was a common way to identify heathens of any description, but it undoubtedly also reflects the fear of the Ottoman Empire, which was seen as a permanent threat to Christendom.