National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Saint John in the Desert Domenico Veneziano (artist)
Florentine, c. 1410 - 1461
Saint John in the Desert, c. 1445/1450
tempera on panel
overall: 28.4 x 31.8 cm (11 3/16 x 12 1/2 in.) framed: 40.6 x 44.1 x 5.1 cm (16 x 17 3/8 x 2 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
1943.4.48
On View
From the Tour: The Early Renaissance in Florence
Object 3 of 8

This panel and Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata are from one of Domenico's major works, a large altarpiece in the church of Santa Lucia de' Magnoli in Florence. They formed part of its predella, the lower tier of small scenes that typically illustrated events in the lives of the saints who appeared in the larger central altar panel above.

Domenico's John the Baptist is unusual. Earlier artists had shown him as an older, bearded man with matted hair and clad in animal skins. Here, though, we see a youthful John at the very moment he is casting off the fine clothes of worldly life for a spiritual existence. His graceful figure, nude and modeled like an ancient statue, is one of the first embodiments of the Renaissance preoccupation with the art of ancient Greece and Rome. The figure is convincingly three-dimensional because the tones Domenico used for his flesh are graduated, one color blending continuously into the next. The landscape around the saint, however, belongs to an earlier tradition. Its sharp, stylized forms increase our appreciation for the desolation John is about to embrace in the stony wilderness; they dramatize his decision and give his action greater significance.

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