St. John the Baptist

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Unknown sculptor
Keyword
St. John the Baptist , lamb
Abstract
St. John the Baptist is described in the Bible as coming from the wilderness, where he wore camel skin and ate only locusts and honey. He is the last of the prophets, the one who points to Christ and says ""Ecce agnus dei"" (Behold the lamb of the lord). Both of the images of John are conflated in this painted and gilded wood statue. He stands on an integral base, carved to look like rough rocks, a synecdoche for the wilderness. Thin, with protruding ribs from his meager diet, his skin tanned from living outdoors, his camel skin clothes are scanty, as appropriate for this ascetic image. Laid on top of these, however, is a great sweep of luxuriant blue and gold cloak, which falls all the way to the ground on one side, cleverly offering a counterweight and added support to the skinny legs. Like this royal cloak, the carefully coiffed curls of the hair and beard and the not-so-haggard rounded pink-cheeked face serve to elevate this figure, making him both humble and exalted, as befits a saint. Similarly elegant and not terribly naturalistic is the gesture with which John supports the book and the toy-like lamb sitting on top of it. The now missing right hand originally pointed to these objects. In Italy, John was more often shown with a rustic stick cross. The right hand pointing to the lamb and book in the other hand was common in German representations. Because of this and the style of the carving, scholars have posited that the artist was likely from northern Italy, perhaps the Veneto, or from Germany. The sculpture, housed in Santa Maria Maggiore in Miglionico, Basilicata, is thus one among many testaments to the cosmopolitan culture of southern Italy in the Renaissance, and the ways in which materials, sculptures, and artists moved around the peninsula and beyond. The sculpture, created in the early sixteenth century, is carved from one trunk of wood, which was then painted and gilded. In the 1998 restoration, this original polychromy, which is in good condition, was revealed, and a later papier mâché hand was removed. These photographs were taken when the work was in an exhibition at the Palazzo Lanfranchi in Matera in 2019. Photograph(s) licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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