MS M.917/945, pp. 208–209

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St. John the Baptist

The Netherlands, Utrecht
ca. 1440
7 1/2 x 5 1/8 inches (192 x 130 mm)

Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963

MS M.917/945, pp. 208–209

The gaunt figure of John the Baptist stands in the midst of a wild and craggy landscape at sunset, dressed in a light brown camel skin and covered by a cloak. The artist, with delicate shading, has given John hollow cheeks and sunken eyes that bespeak of his ascetic lifestyle in the pictured desert. He cradles a small bleeding lamb in his left arm while gesturing toward it with his right, reminding us that John pointed the way toward Jesus, whom he called the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei). He holds the lamb's bannered staff of Resurrection, its cross-decorated flag once silver but now sadly oxidized.


Suffrages are short prayers to individual saints. As protectors of medieval people, saints were their doctor in plague, their midwife at childbirth, their guardian when traveling, and their nurse during toothache. If the Virgin was the figure to whom one addressed the all-important petition for eternal salvation, it was from saints that one sought more basic or temporal kinds of help. While the Virgin became, as the Mother of God, almost a goddess herself, saints retained more of their humanity and thus their approachability.


Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern