About this artwork
This is one of six paintings illustrating scenes from the life of Saint John the Baptist, a prophet considered a forerunner of Jesus. They were originally part of a group of 12 that possibly formed the doors of a reliquary shrine to the saint. The first painting depicts John twice, leaving civilization—marked by ornate buildings and manicured agricultural fields—and entering the wilderness to become a hermit. In the next scene, John wears a hair shirt, symbolizing his ascetic life in the wilderness, as he announces that Jesus, at his right, is the savior prophesied as the agnus dei, the Lamb of God.
The following three panels depict John the Baptist’s imprisonment and execution at the hands of Herod, ruler of Galilee. According to one version of the story, Herod—seen in blue at the head of the table in the fourth panel from the left—was so taken by his stepdaughter Salome’s dancing that he reluctantly obliged when she requested John’s beheading (visualized gruesomely in the fifth panel). Giovanni di Paolo related the Baptist’s complex biography with expressive figures represented multiple times to indicate their movement through highly imaginative and stylized settings.
- Giovanni di Paolo
- The Head of Saint John the Baptist Brought before Herod
- Italy (Object made in)
- Tempera on panel
- 68.5 × 40.2 cm (27 × 15 13/16 in.); painted surface: 66.1 × 38.1 cm (26 1/32 × 15 in.)
- Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection