OIL PAINTING: Paul and Apollos, 1872
In 1872 Poynter was commissioned by H.A. Palmer to produce a fresco for the church of St Stephen in South Dulwich, of which his son-in-law had been made first vicar. Designed by Charles Barry junior in a neo-Gothic style, the church was still under construction when Poynter executed his fresco during the winter of 1872. The painting fills a blind arch behind the choir stalls in the south wall of the chancel and illustrates two episodes, as recounted in Acts 7: 56-8, from the life of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr: the main portion presenting his vision before the High Priest's council ; the predella showing the saint led out of Jerusalem by Roman guards to be stoned by a group of fanatics.
With its dry surface, muted colour harmonies, and frieze-like disposition of figures arranged to display their muscular physiques, this work parallels the 'subjectless' decorative compositions produced by Moore and Richmond around the same time. However, the scene is intended to represent two early converts to Christianity from different races, the Jewish Paul and the Greek Apollos, and illustrates the former's plea for Christian unity:
"I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase" (see 1 Corinthians 3: 5-9).
The image was eventually incorporated as a background detail in the lower part of the Dulwich fresco, in which Paul therefore appears twice: once as Saul the Pharisee (before his conversion), in green, guarding the robes discarded by Stephen's executioners, and then naked with Apollos, as an emblem of the fraternal love nurtured by the Christian faith.