Daniel Mitsui  ~  Religious Drawings  ~  St. Ambrose of Milan



This is an ink drawing on a 5 1/4" × 7 7/8" piece of calfskin vellum. I drew it using calligraphers’ inks applied with dip pens and brushes.

The original was created on private commission.

The famous confrontation between St. Ambrose of Milan and the Emperor Theodosius is recounted in the Golden Legend of James of Voragine:
The citizens of Thessalonica had aroused the Emperor’s wrath, but at Ambrose’s request he had pardoned them. Later the ruler, secretly incluenced by some malicious courtiers, ordered the execution of a huge number of those he had pardoned. Ambrose knew nothing of this at the time, but when he learned what had happened, he refused to allow the Emperor to enter the church. Theodosius pointed out that David had committed adultery and homicide, and Ambrose responded: You followed David in wrongdoing, follow him in repentance. The most clement Emperor accepted the order gracefully and did not refuse to do public penance....

Being thus reconciled, he went into the church and stood inside the gates of the chancel. Ambrose asked him why he was waiting there. He said that he was waiting to take part in the sacred mysteries, to which Ambrose replied: O Emperor, the space inside the chancel is reserved for priests. Go outside therefore, and participate with the rest of the people. The purple makes emperors, not priests. The Emperor promptly obeyed.


In depicting this event, I wanted to give emphasis to the ideas of repentance and forgiveness; in a quatrefoil above the door of the church, I drew King David confronted by the Prophet Nathan (whose parable appears in a smaller quatrefoil). The postures, clothing, and positions of these figures relate them to those of St. Ambrose and Theodosius below. The beginning of the psalm expressing King David’s repentance I wrote on the lintel. On the door is a sactuary knocker (in the form of a green man, similar to that knocker on Durham Cathedral) which suggests again the idea of a church as a place for the repentant. Both St. Ambrose and the Emperor wear purple vestments; the color is a symbol both of repentance and of imperiality.

The crosier carried by St. Ambrose is my own fanciful design; it has a carved-ivory head in the shape of a seahorse with snails for crockets, and terminates in a narwhal tusk.

I used the translucency of the calfskin for artistic effect, drawing certain details on the opposite side of the sheet, in reverse. These include the damask pattern, wood grain, and fossil coral in the stones. Like watermarks, these are more visible when the drawing is held up to a light. The original drawing thus has a different character depending on where and when it is seen. (These effects are less apparent in the giclée print, which is printed on one side only.)

An open-edition giclée print of this drawing is available for $39. You may use the button below to pay via PayPal, debit card or credit card. Be sure to confirm the shipping address.

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Please note that the original drawing was made on calfskin vellum, which is not perfectly white, flat or homogenous. Natural variations in the color and thickness of the calfskin show up in the giclée print, especially in the outer borders. These are not smudges or printing errors, but part of the artwork itself.

See this page for additional ordering instructions and general information. If you want to pay via a check or money order, please e-mail me at danmitsui [at] hotmail [dot] com.

all works copyright Daniel Mitsui / danmitsui at hotmail dot com