Exhibiting Historical Art: Out of the Vault: Stories of People and Things

St. John the Baptist

The New Testament figure of John the Baptist played a key role in the life of Jesus.  John’s primary importance stems from his having baptized Jesus, thus enforcing their bond.  After Jesus’s baptism, St. John’s purpose of being was seen as fulfilled, and rest of his life was less closely related to Christ’s. St. John spread the teachings of righteousness throughout the rest of his life, becoming a devoted prophet. The various political implications of St. John’s teachings caused him to be arrested and later executed by Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee and Perea.

John is frequently represented in art pointing the way towards Jesus, identifying him as the Lamb of God. Although he was represented in various stages of his life, Villabrille choose to depict St. John when he was older. This image of St. John alludes to his execution or torture while being arrested. The agony on his face is distressing, reminding the viewer of St. John’s sacrifice for Christ. By choosing such a prominent figure in Jesus’s life, Villabrille stresses the importance of Catholicism. During a time of such religious transformation, a piece like St. John on a Platter was important for swaying public opinion towards the Catholic Church. 

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