About this artwork
Among the most impressive achievements of the Sienese master Giovanni di Paolo
is his narrative series of twelve panels illustrating the life of Saint John the Baptist—from his birth, prophecy, and the baptism of Christ through his beheading at the request of Salome. These scenes are enacted in complex settings that exploit the tall, slender proportions of the panels and set off the expressive poses of the figures. The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist depicts the henchmen of Queen Herodias placing his head on a golden platter. The execution has just occurred; blood spews profusely from the elongated neck of the saint. The rich patterning of the architecture, painted in a light, delicate palette, contrasts with the gruesome trails of blood falling to the ground and collecting beneath the decapitated corpse. The distant landscape was inspired by the hills around Siena. Throughout the series, Giovanni skillfully repeated colors, settings, and patterns to create a unified narrative. Eleven of the original twelve panels survive, six of which are in the Art Institute. The panels were arranged in three rows to form two large, movable doors, possibly once enclosing a sculpture or relic.
- Giovanni di Paolo
- The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist
- Tempera on panel
- 68.6 × 39.1 cm (27 × 15 3/8 in.); painted surface: 66.3 × 36.6 cm (26 1/16 × 14 7/16 in.)
- Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection