THE Apostles are the most famous band of men in history, and yet
very little is known about their particular characters or how they
looked, except that most of them were fishermen and so would have
been muscular, suntanned, and possibly quite patient.
At this year's Lenten art exhibition at the little medieval
shepherd's church St Michael's, in Presteigne, on the Welsh Border,
Charles MacCarthy, artist and curator, is making sure that each
apostle is portrayed as a unique individual.
He and his fellow organiser David Hiam put the names of the 12
apostles in a hat, and then picked one out for each of the chosen
12 artists to draw or paint.
The altar has been temporarily moved aside to allow MacCarthy's
12-foot-long white plasterboard table to take its place, with
plaster models of plates, cups, bread, and chalice illuminated by a
spotlight. A black backdrop represents sky and space. On the table
stands a globe, and MacCarthy has engraved on the table "That they
may be one". Around the walls hang the contrasting 12 portraits,
and MacCarthy sees this as reaffirming Jesus's prayer for unity,
and as representing the peoples of the world united in Christ.
Bronte Woodruff has taken a traditional approach to Andrew, the
brother of Peter. Using Van Dyck crystals as muted stain for his
face and beard, and delicate aquatint blue for his headdress, she
presents a gentle young middle-aged man, a quieter version of his
elder brother, yet strong and determined.
Tony Hall has also taken a conventional view of Judas Iscariot
rather than struggle with a personal interpretation. The apostle is
instantly recognisable with his head covered in a prayer shawl, as
he places the kiss of betrayal on Jesus's cheek. This is in pencil
and white chalk on grey board.
Since almost nothing is known about Thaddeus, known also as
Jude, Simon Dorrell has portrayed him in light-toned gouache and
ink, in a confrontational but quizzical attitude. "I know who I
am," he seems to say. "Who do you think I am?" Dorrell has used a
special locally produced handmade hypericum paper, which is fragile
and absorbent. The result is full of holes and tears, suggesting
decay, and perhaps that the past can never truly be fully
We do know that James the elder (son of Zebedee) had a fiery
temper and was one of the closer apostles to Jesus, and also one of
the first to be martyred. Susie Cawley's portrait in bright
watercolour and ink shows a man, dark hair and beard closely
cropped, and looking as if he knows exactly where he is going. The
background of sea and foreign lands suggests the journey that he is
to make, and he wears the scallop shell on his cloak, the symbol of
the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage.
Luckily, Sara Bamford was able to use the many biblical
references to create her Thomas. He is young and beardless with
wiry black hair, and is frowning suspiciously. To get this effect,
she has used wire and solder on paper-covered board. She feels that
he was passionate and impetuous, but once he had proved to himself
that Jesus was alive, his faith became great, intense, and
Although there is no specific description of Philip, he seems to
have been a quiet, patient, and organised man, who attended to the
teachings of John the Baptist, followed Jesus loyally from the
beginning, and brought his friend Bartholomew (also Nathanael) to
meet Jesus. Silvia Pastore has made Philip a friendly,
fresh-complexioned young man with loose grey hair and short beard,
who could fit in anywhere in any age.
Jesus said about Bartholomew "Behold an Israelite indeed in whom
there is no guile." It is also recorded that he was martyred by
being flayed until all the skin was torn off his body. Dan
MacCarthy has made a wood engraving of his father peeling all the
skin off an apple, which, he says, is "bringing religious imagery
into the domain of my own experience and that of the present day".
It will be difficult to peel an apple again without remembering St
Lois Hopwood sees James the Less as a young, beardless man
engrossed in thought; but, as a mature man, he was highly thought
of in the Jerusalem church. Like James, his brother John was known
to be fiery, but very loving, and the only apostle known to have
waited with Mary at the foot of the cross and to whom Jesus
entrusted her care. Alex Ramsay has avoided a young version, and in
a photo of a pigment print has framed John in profile as an older
man setting off on his mission with short greying hair, a red cloak
representing his hot temper, and a net slung over his shoulder.
Matthew (known also as Levi) was not a fisherman, but an
unpopular tax collector working for the Romans, before he followed
Jesus. Julienne Braham shows him with balding head half held in his
hands at the point of realisation of the shame of his sin and the
awakening of his true self, while cleansing light pours down on
him. She has used mixed media with acrylic paint for the sun's
rays, and at the bottom of her moving portrait she has written: "I
came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" (Mark
In opposition to the Romans and working for national
independence were the Zealots, and it is thought that Jesus
accepted not only Matthew, but Simon the Zealot, with their
opposing political views, to show his love for all, whatever they
stood for. Nick Bush decided to make Simon the Zealot a jovial sort
of mature man with a short haircut, but, although the eyes are
friendly, there is also a rather determined and ruthless look in
Peter has the best-known character, but Tania Mosse has overlaid
a fine cloth imprinted with a bearded face over Japanese paper
printed with a fishing net to suggest the mists of time and how
things are preserved, changed, forgotten, and lost over the
Even if we know that the apostles' real characters are lost "in
the mists of time", it is good to see them revisualised and
remember how amazing they were.
"The Twelve: A Further Reflection on the Last Supper" is at
St Michael's, Presteigne, Powys LD8 2NW, until 6 April. Open daily
10 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. Phone 01547 560 246.
All profits from the sale of the artworks go to St Michael's