Thursday, August 13, 2009

St John in the Wilderness

Title: St John in the Wilderness

Artist: Domenico Veneziano

Medium: Tempera on wood

Size: 28.5 x 32.5 cm

Date: c. 1447

Location: National Gallery of Art, Washington.

This painting is one of the five predella panels from the St. Lucy Altarpiece, which have now been separated from the altarpiece itself, and are in the museums of Washington, Cambridge and Berlin. Originally, the predella had probably been arranged in the same order as the saints appear in the main panel, that is: The Stigmatization of St Francis, St John in the Wilderness (National Gallery, Washington), Annunciation, St Zenobius Performs a Miracle (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) and the Martyrdom of St Lucy (Staatliche Museen, Berlin).

In the predella we find the same pale and delicate colors as in the main panel, but handled with even greater freedom and more loosely blended together. In scenes like the ‘St John in the Wilderness’, the colors and the light are true protagonists. This particular scene is also interesting from an iconographical point of view, for it is the only known depiction of St John in the wilderness at the moment when he is removing his worldly clothes to don the camel skin, the symbol of his vocation. The artistic inspiration comes from the Gospel of Luke 3:2 where it simply notes “[during the time of] the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came upon John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.”

Domenico Veneziano (c. 1410 – May 15, 1461) was an Italian painter of the early Renaissance, active mostly in Perugia and Tuscany. Little is known of his birth, though he is thought to have been born in Venice, hence his last name. Between 1445 and 1447 Domenico painted one of his two surviving signed works: an altarpiece for the Church of Santa Lucia dei Magnoli, usually called the Magnoli, or St Lucy, altarpiece. This altarpiece is one of the outstanding paintings produced in Florence in the middle of the 15th century.

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