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Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness

Key facts
Full title Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness
Artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
Artist dates 1617 - 1682
Date made 1660-70
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 120 × 105.5 cm
Acquisition credit Mond Bequest, 1924
Inventory number NG3938
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Saint John the Baptist is shown within a rugged landscape and wearing a camel-hair tunic, alluding to the simple life he led in the wilderness, as described in the Gospel of Matthew. He holds a reed cross with a scroll coiled around the top. It bears a Latin inscription: Ecce Agnus Dei (‘Behold the Lamb of God’ – the words John spoke on meeting Christ, and a title that refers to Christ’s self-sacrifice in atoning for humanity’s sins).

John is transfixed, looking up towards heaven. He places one hand gently on his chest as he recalls his encounter with Christ. The crop of the composition – just below John’s knees – is unusual, but it is unlikely that the painting has been cut down.

The painting arrived in England, from Spain, in the early 1780s and was particularly admired by the painter Thomas Gainsborough. He bought it in 1787, the year before his death.

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