St. John the Baptist: fragments

Portrait of a Man at Prayer with Saint John the Baptist

Portrait of a Man at Prayer with Saint John the Baptist. c. 1475.  Hugo van der Goes, active 1440-1482, Netherlandish.  Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

 

This is one of my favourite paintings. Its astonishing realism contrasts with the painting below which, despite its later date and its lively colours, is wooden.

 

 

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St. John the Baptist pointing out Christ as the Lamb of God, c. 1500, oil on wood.  Master of the St. John Altarpiece, possibly Hugo Jacobsz,  documented as working between 1478 and 1534,  Netherlandish.  Philadelphia Art Museum

 

 

There is more going on in the picture of the man at prayer than at first meets the eye.

St. John is pointing at something or someone at which the prayer is looking.

 

There is a dissonance in the painting which comes from the tilt of St. John’s head and the focus of his eyes.  The focus of his eyes is not the same as the focus of the prayer’s eyes.

 

 

Portrait of a Man at Prayer with Saint John the Baptist

Portrait of a Man at Prayer with Saint John the Baptist. c. 1475.  Hugo van der Goes, active 1440-1482, Netherlandish.  Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

 

 

He could be whispering into the prayer’s ear and probably is.

But the pose of his head and the inward focus of his eyes place him at once in the company of the prayer and apart. 

I have seen this look.  In India on the faces of some saddhus.

 

I take this in this painting to be evidence of the autonomy and spiritual maturity of a man who does not need external aids for his own spiritual practice.  A man who retained his autonomy even though he had long since subordinated his life to the life and fate of his cousin for whom he was companion since childhood and baptiser and chief human enabler in adulthood.

 

 

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Head of St. John the Baptist, c. 1523, chalk.  Andrea Del Sarto, 1486-1530, Italian.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

 

 

An autonomy which I like to fancy I see in the drawing below of Michelangelo:  St. John the Baptist fully integrated in the triangle formed by the bodies of all three figures facing the viewer, the slant of his right leg paralleling that of Mary’s left; and his arms touching the small of her back with the familiarity of a child. 

 

 

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The Virgin and Child with the Infant St. John the Baptist, black chalk.  Michelangelo, 1475-1654, Italian.  Loaned by HM Queen Elizabeth II to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2017/18

 

 

A St. John the Baptist, outside of the narrower triangle of mother and child,  poised, relaxed,  reflective and both within and without.

 

 

 

 

 

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