The Great Exemplar of Sanctity and holy life according to the Christian institution : described in the history of the life and death of the Ever Blessed Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world : with considerations and discourses upon the several parts of the story; and prayers fitted to the several mysteries : in three parts.
Jeremy Taylor’s The Great Exemplar, is considered to be the first narrative account of the life of Christ to be printed in English. First in his series of devotional works, The Great Exemplar became one of the most popular selling books of the seventeenth century. Born and educated in in Cambridge, Taylor (ca. 1613-1667) was consecrated Bishop of Down and Connor in Ireland in 1658, where he would come to experience great difficulty during an era of religious and political crisis. The engraver of this plate was William Faithorne (ca. 1616-1691), a Londoner, who was at one point taken as a political prisoner during the English Civil War; yet whom was remarkably allowed to continue to engrave portraits while imprisoned!
In this illustration the twelve apostles are gathered closely around a table, with Christ positioned at the center. Here we can see a plate before him. There is bread on the table, and a cup. One of the apostles seems to rest his head on the figure of Christ. John 13:21-25 reads:
When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus; so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, “Tell us who it is of whom he speaks.”
In the center of the illustration we can see that Jesus’ hand gestures towards the figure in the foreground, Judas, seen holding the bag of silver. The apostles are shown reacting to the foretelling of the betrayal; turning towards one another, or holding their hands in expressive gestures. The identity of the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” is the topic of much inquiry. Some biblical scholars believe it is John the Apostle, some Jesus’ brother James, and some Mary Magdalene (among many other theories).
Artwork in the public domain