Tuesday, July 21, 2009

St. John the Baptist

Title: St. John the Baptist

Artist: El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos)

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 111 x 66 cm

Date: c. 1600

Location: The Fine Art Museum of San Francisco, CA

St. John the Baptist, son of St. Elisabeth and the priest Zacharias, figures prominently in the Gospels. John followed the example of previous Hebrew prophets, living austerely, challenging sinful rulers, calling for repentance, and promising God's justice. He announced the coming of the Messiah, and led a movement of Baptism at the Jordan River in expectation of a divine apocalypse. The messianic figure John anticipated is realized when he baptizes Jesus, initiating the beginning of His earthly ministry. King Herod later has John imprisoned for denouncing his marriage, and eventually he is executed (Matthew 14:1-12.)

This is the finest of the various representations in which St John the Baptist appears in El Greco’s oeuvre. The attenuated figure, the agitated movement of the sky and the scintillating light on the landscape is characteristic of El Greco's work around 1600. This painting is further distinguished from related pictures by the placement of the lamb on the rock - a reference to Christ's sacrifice. The building in the landscape background has been identified as the Escorial, A monastery and palace of central Spain near Madrid.

El Greco (1541 – April 7, 1614) was a painter, sculptor, and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. Today considered one of the greatest artists of the Spanish school El Greco (the Greek) was actually born in Crete, a Greek island under Venetian control. The artist always acknowledged this origin, signing his works with his given name, Domenikos Theotokopoulus, in Greek characters. El Greco's early works demonstrate that he worked within the conservative tradition of Byzantine icon painting before exposure to Venetian High Renaissance art broadened his stylistic approach. El Greco's dramatic and expressionistic style was met with puzzlement by his contemporaries but found greater appreciation in the 20th century.

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