Skip to Content

To best protect the health and safety of our community, the museum is temporarily closed. Learn more.

The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist

A work made of tempera on panel.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

Image actions

  • A work made of tempera on panel.




Giovanni di Paolo
Italian, 1398–1482

About this artwork

Among the most impressive achievements of the Sienese master Giovanni di Paolo
is his narrative series of twelve panels illustrating the life of Saint John the Baptist—from his birth, prophecy, and the baptism of Christ through his beheading at the request of Salome. These scenes are enacted in complex settings that exploit the tall, slender proportions of the panels and set off the expressive poses of the figures. The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist depicts the henchmen of Queen Herodias placing his head on a golden platter. The execution has just occurred; blood spews profusely from the elongated neck of the saint. The rich patterning of the architecture, painted in a light, delicate palette, contrasts with the gruesome trails of blood falling to the ground and collecting beneath the decapitated corpse. The distant landscape was inspired by the hills around Siena. Throughout the series, Giovanni skillfully repeated colors, settings, and patterns to create a unified narrative. Eleven of the original twelve panels survive, six of which are in the Art Institute. The panels were arranged in three rows to form two large, movable doors, possibly once enclosing a sculpture or relic.

On View

European Painting and Sculpture, Gallery 204


Giovanni di Paolo


The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist






Tempera on panel


68.6 × 39.1 cm (27 × 15 3/8 in.); painted surface: 66.3 × 36.6 cm (26 1/16 × 14 7/16 in.)

Credit Line

Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


Sign up for our enewsletter to receive updates.

Learn more

Image actions