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Attributed to Jan Mostaert, The Head of Saint John the Baptist

Key facts
Full title The Head of Saint John the Baptist, with Mourning Angels
Artist Attributed to Jan Mostaert
Artist dates active 1498; died 1552/3
Date made probably 1520s
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 26.1 × 17.1 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Mrs Joseph H. Green, 1880
Inventory number NG1080
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Head of Saint John the Baptist
Attributed to Jan Mostaert

A severed head lies on a gilded platter resting on a blue tasselled cushion. This is the head of Saint John the Baptist, who was executed on the orders of King Herod (Mark 6: 17–29). Child and adult angels gather around it in grief.

The cult of the Baptist was very popular in medieval and renaissance Europe, and was particularly associated with the Order of Saint John. Five of the angels wear a Maltese cross; the picture may have been made for a Knight of the Order who, from 1530, were also known as the Knights of Malta.

Jan Mostaert worked largely in Haarlem, and this picture was perhaps painted for the Haarlem Commandery of the Knights of Malta. It may have been the same ‘picture of Saint John’s head’ which in 1572 was in the small office of the convent.

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