Head of Saint John the Baptist on a Charger

Aelbert Bouts Netherlandish

Not on view

This grisly depiction of John the Baptist's severed head was once an extremely popular image, due to the saint’s growing cult in the Middle Ages. Since John was considered to be Christ’s forerunner and herald, his execution was interpreted as a metaphor for the latter’s crucifixion. This panel is one of more than twenty versions which were produced through the transfer of the design from a common workshop pattern in the circles of Dieric Bouts and his son Aelbert. The mimetic potential of oil painting is used here to create the illusion of a real head on a real platter.

Head of Saint John the Baptist on a Charger, Aelbert Bouts (Netherlandish, Leuven ca. 1451/54–1549), Oil on poplar

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