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John the BaJohn the Baptist, Saintptist, Saint -  

john’s scenes birth art

John the Baptist (d. c.30) plays an extremely significant role in the Gospels and in Christian art primarily in his foreshadowing and recognition of Jesus as the Messiah (the Lamb of God, * Agnus Dei ) when he baptized Jesus in the river Jordan John had been living as Page 137  an austere preacher in the wilderness, feeding on locusts and wild honey, dressing in camel skin robes, and calling for repentance; he is described as a “messenger,” “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” .

The birth and *death of John the Baptist are also described in the Gospels. His mother, *Elizabeth, was a kinswoman of the Virgin *Mary, to whom Mary paid a visit during their pregnancies John’s birth (to elderly parents) was also announced in advance by the *angel *Gabriel to his father, *Zacharias, who refused to believe it and was struck dumb until John’s *circumcision and naming eight days after his birth . Apocryphal sources (e.g., the Protevangelium of James ) describe how Elizabeth and the infant John escaped the *Massacre of the Innocents by hiding in a cave and how they met the *Holy Family after their return from the *Flight into Egypt. John was imprisoned shortly after Jesus’ Baptism at the urging of Herodias, the wife of *Herod; her eventual request for John’s head resulted in his decapitation . The historian *Josephus stated that John’s imprisonment and death took place in the fortress of Machaerus near the Dead Sea. His alleged tomb at Sebaste was destroyed in the mid-fourth century, and his *relics were scattered and distributed widely.

Scenes of the Baptism of Jesus by Saint John appear in art as early as the third century (e.g., catacomb frescoes and sarcophagi). John is normally depicted as a tall, bearded figure, clothed in a shaggy garment. He stands on the riverbank and lays his hand upon Jesus’ head. This is the moment when the dove of the *Holy Spirit appeared and *God’s voice was heard announcing Jesus as his son. Sometimes John holds a staff or crozier; and a honeycomb or honey jar as well as an ax jutting from the base of a tree may be included. The latter refers to John’s words (recorded in *Matthew 3:10 and Luke 3:9): “the ax is laid unto the root of the trees” in warning that trees which do not bear “good fruit” will be “hewn down.” These elements (the ax, staff, and honeycomb) frequently function as John’s iconographic attributes. He is often also shown with a lamb, which he carries or points to as it stands near his feet. He is otherwise recognizable by his ragged clothing and unkempt hair and beard. In later Byzantine *icons, John is also shown with wings, indicating his status as a heavenly “messenger”.

Narrative scenes of John’s birth and infancy and episodes surrounding his death also appear in early Christian and medieval art. Scenes of his birth and circumcision are found especially from the Romanesque period onward, while illustrations of the flight of Elizabeth and John during the Massacre of the Innocents appear as early as the sixth century. John’s reproof of Herod and Herodias, the imprisonment of John, the Feast of Herod, dance of Salome, decapitation of John, and presentation of his head on a platter are all subjects found throughout medieval art, as independent episodes or in detailed narrative cycles. Saint John *preaching, baptizing the multitudes, and the entombment of Saint John also appear, as well as scenes of the discovery and burning of his relics. John is also shown (e.g., in eleventh-century Byzantine mosaics) in scenes Page 138  of the *Anastasis, present at or announcing *Christ’s Harrowing of Hell, and he features frequently in scenes of the *Last Judgment in his role as intercessor, paralleling the Virgin Mary with whom he is also paired in * Deësis groups. In late medieval art, the depiction (in both two and three dimensional media) of the severed head of John on a platter became a popular devotional image


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