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Saint John the Baptist Entering the Wilderness

A work made of tempera on panel.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of tempera on panel.




Giovanni di Paolo (Italian, 1398–1482)

About this artwork

This is one of six paintings illustrating scenes from the life of Saint John the Baptist, a prophet considered a forerunner of Jesus. They were originally part of a group of 12 that possibly formed the doors of a reliquary shrine to the saint. The first painting depicts John twice, leaving civilization—marked by ornate buildings and manicured agricultural fields—and entering the wilderness to become a hermit. In the next scene, John wears a hair shirt, symbolizing his ascetic life in the wilderness, as he announces that Jesus, at his right, is the savior prophesied as the agnus dei, the Lamb of God.

The following three panels depict John the Baptist’s imprisonment and execution at the hands of Herod, ruler of Galilee. According to one version of the story, Herod—seen in blue at the head of the table in the fourth panel from the left—was so taken by his stepdaughter Salome’s dancing that he reluctantly obliged when she requested John’s beheading (visualized gruesomely in the fifth panel). Giovanni di Paolo related the Baptist’s complex biography with expressive figures represented multiple times to indicate their movement through highly imaginative and stylized settings.


On View, Gallery 204


Painting and Sculpture of Europe


Giovanni di Paolo


Saint John the Baptist Entering the Wilderness


Italy (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Tempera on panel


68.5 × 36.2 cm (27 × 14 1/4 in.); Framed: 79.4 × 47.7 × 8 cm (31 1/4 × 18 3/4 × 3 1/8 in.)

Credit Line

Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection

Reference Number


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Extended information about this artwork

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