This wood scultpure showing fine traces of polychromy depicts John the Baptist, one the Old Testament’s last prophets and the first martyr of the New Testament. He is easily recognizable with the lamb he is carrying in his left hand. The way the artist has carved the face exudes a spiritual strenght inherited from previous centuries.
Saint John the Baptist is depicted bare feet, seated in a hieratic manner. His elongated face is marked by a beard and a moustache. The straight nose and wide eyes indicate a Spanish origin. This asumption is reaffirmed by the Saint’s resigned expression.
His parted hair frames his face while uncovering his ears.
He wears a round collar red-orange tunic, draped onto the body and belted at the waist. A flap of his green coat covers his knees and falls down in stylized pleats.
Following iconographic rules Saint John the Baptist is pointing with his right hand the lamb seated over the book he holds in his left hand. This depiction echoes what the Saint said before Jesus’ baptism « Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world ! » John 1 : 29.
The 14th century in Spain is known as an artistic transition period. Sculpture maintains characteristics from previous centuries as well as establishing new visual solutions.
The hieratic posture of our Saint John the Baptist, his elongated proportions, the respect of the Eastern symbolism of the hand gesture as well as his exophthalmos and supple drapes are clearly characteristics from the 13th century.
However the clothe’s pleats show an evolution from previous era. Even though the cloth lacks in natural it shows the artist’s interest for weight and draping.
Those different points – union between tradition and evolution – allow us to date this sculpture around the late 13th century and early 14th century.
LIFE OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST
John the Baptist was the son of Elizabeth, cousin of the Virgin, and of Zechariah an old priest. He was the cousin of Jesus Christ.
When he was in his teenage years John went to the Judean desert to lead an ascetic life, feeding from locusts and preaching penance until the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, by the Jordan river. Jesus asked John to give him baptism and with this event begins Jesus’ preaching. His preachings caused general effervescence among the people leading to his arrest.
Saint John the Baptist was imprisoned in 29AD by Herod Antipas, tetrach of Galilee, because of his opposition to Herod’s wedding with Herodiad his niece and sister-in-law. Salome, daughter of Herodiad, asked for John’s head after giving the tetrarch an appealing dance and thus the Saint is beheaded.
John the Baptist, sometimes called John the Forerunner, is the first among the hierarchy of Saints and his primacy is recognized by liturgy. The numerous relics and churches bearing his name across the globe express the Saint’s popularity.
Jacqueline LIEVEAUX-BOCCADOR, Edouard BRESSET, Statuaire médiévale de collection, Tome I, Les clefs du temps, Milan, 1972