The feast day of John the Baptist’s birth is coming up on June 24, and London’s National Gallery has provided a great way to immerse yourself in his story—through art! The museum has produced a ten-video series called Saint John the Baptist: From Birth to Beheading, in which Professor Ben Quash, director of the Centre for Arts and the Sacred at King’s College, joins Dr. Jennifer Sliwka, curator of art and religion at the National Gallery, for a stroll through the museum and some nearby sites to discuss various works of art in which John appears.
Quash and Sliwka teach a collaborative master’s program in Christianity and the Arts, which invites participants to
investigate how Christian scripture, beliefs and practices have found expression in art over 2,000 years; trace the idea of beauty in Western theological tradition; make use of examples in London. . . . The MA will enable students to work across disciplinary and specialism boundaries, and in particular to explore simultaneously the art-historical and theological dimensions of Christian art – approaches which are generally pursued in isolation from one another.
Their analysis of the paintings in this video series is superaccessible to those with no art background, and familiarity with Christianity isn’t assumed either.
The ten videos—about eight minutes each—are embedded below.
Artwork: Saint John the Baptist from Carlo Crivelli’s Demidoff Altarpiece
- Birth and Naming
Artworks: Giovanni di Paolo’s Saint John the Baptist retiring to the Desert; Saint John the Baptist by an anonymous Italian artist from about 1640–60; Moretto da Brescia’s Christ blessing Saint John the Baptist
Artworks: Raphael’s Saint John the Baptist Preaching; Pier Francesco Mola’s Saint John the Baptist preaching in the Wilderness; Parmigianino’s The Madonna and Child with Saints John the Baptist and Jerome
Artworks: the baptismal font at Salisbury Cathedral, designed by William Pye; Adam Elsheimer’s The Baptism of Christ; and the most famous painting of this subject in any collection: Piero della Francesca’s The Baptism of Christ
- The Baptist’s Head
- Power and Judgment
Artworks: the anonymous English Portrait of Richard II at Westminster Abbey (John the Baptist was his patron saint); a scene above the central panel of Giovanni dal Ponte’s Ascension of Saint John the Evangelist Altarpiece depicting John the Baptist preparing souls to enter into heaven; and The Wilton Diptych, depicting John the Baptist presenting King Richard to the heavenly retinue
To engage with more art from the National Gallery, consider buying one of the two books I reviewed here.