Preview | Saint John the Baptist: From Birth to Beheading | National Gallery, London

Preview | Saint John the Baptist: From Birth to Beheading | National Gallery, London


In the early centuries of the Church’s life,
there were only two birthdays that were celebrated in the church year. One was the birthday of
Jesus Christ and the other was the birthday of John the Baptist. John the Baptist features in some of the most
famous paintings in the National Gallery collection; painted by artists from Piero della Francesca
to Leonardo, from Caravaggio to Puvis de Chavannes. And it really is a testament to how this saint
has captured the imagination of artists and patrons over the centuries. So what makes John the Baptist special? That
I think is a fascinating question and it opens onto the fact that he’s one of the greatest
figures in the biblical story; he’s one of the most depicted saints in art. Ben Quash and I have been teaching a collaborative
Master’s course between the National Gallery and King’s College London for the past four
years and we’ve decided to create this series of 10 films to share some of the highlights
of that course. And over the next 10 episodes we’ll examine why for century after century
John the Baptist has been such an intriguing figure. It seems to me that he touches on nearly every
aspect of human life because we see him at every stage of his own life, reflecting on
what it means to follow Christ, what it means to be a saint.

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