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Saint John the Baptist

Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion

Saint John the Baptist

Culture: Italian
Date: c. 1520–1525
Medium: Oil on panel
27 x 20 1/4 inches (68.6 x 51.4 cm)
Classification: Painting
Credit Line: Gift in honor of Marilyn M. Segal by her children
Label Text:Derived from contemporary imagery of the Catholic Saint John the Baptist, the young man here wears a cloak and animal pelt, and points toward a cross made from reeds. John’s thin halo identifies him as a holy figure, and his gesture alludes to Christ’s death by crucifixion. His ivy crown and panther skin (instead of the camel or horse hair common in depictions of the saint) may also tie this figure to Bacchus, the ancient Roman god of wine. The conflation of Christian and pagan traditions during this time was common, and here may be explained by Christ’s Biblical likening to a vine, as well as Bacchus’s reputation as a god who came back to life after death.

Il Bachiacca, to whom this painting is attributed, worked in Florence, Italy during the High Renaissance—a period of significant creative output by artists such as Michelangelo Buonarroti, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael Sanzio. Highly influenced by their work, as well as that of his friend and teacher Andrea del Sarto (1486 – 1530), Il Bachiacca was most noted for his decorative style and tapestry designs. This painting is a copy of a Saint John the Baptist (c. 1517) by Del Sarto at the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts, which in turn is thought to have been influenced by Leonardo’s Saint John the Baptist (c. 1513) at the Louvre in Paris, France.

Provenance: Central Picture Gallery, New York. Mr. and Mrs. J. O'Connor Lynch by 1960s. M. Roy Fisher [d. 1992]. (Christie's New York, lot 104) by January 12, 1978. Private collection, New York. Purchased January 11, 1990 through (Sotheby's New York, lot 57) by Richard D. Segal; gift 1998 to Duke University Museum of Art, now Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.
Object number: 1998.22.12