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Saint John the Baptist
Carlo Crivelli
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This striking half-naked figure is Saint John the Baptist. He comes from a large polyptych (multi-panelled altarpiece) which Crivelli painted in 1476 for the high altar of the church of San Domenico, in Ascoli Piceno in the Italian Marche. Crivelli’s attention to detail is such that we can see the sinews and veins of John’s hands and feet, and the individual hairs on his head and on the inside of the skin laced around him.

John stands in wilderness of pink rocks scattered with bare trees. A clear stream flows along the front of the painting, and reeds sprout up along the water’s edge. The barren landscape and the saint’s camel-skin apron allude to the years John spent as a hermit in the desert, punishing his body with uncomfortable clothes and poor food to bring him closer to God.

Key facts
Artist Carlo Crivelli
Artist dates about 1430/5 - about 1494
Full title Saint John the Baptist
Group The Demidoff Altarpiece
Date made 1476
Medium and support Tempera on poplar
Dimensions 138.5 x 40 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1868
Inventory number NG788.2
Location in Gallery Room 57
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The Demidoff Altarpiece

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Crivelli painted two altarpieces for the small church of San Domenico, in the town of Ascoli Piceno in the Italian Marche. Their history is complex and intertwined. A large, double-tiered polyptych (a multi-panelled altarpiece) sat on the high altar, while a smaller altarpiece was in a side chapel.

In the nineteenth century parts of both altarpieces were sold to a Russian prince, Anatole Demidoff, who mounted them in a grand frame to make a three-tiered altarpiece for the chapel of his villa in Florence. The whole complex is now known as the Demidoff Altarpiece.

The National Gallery bought the Demidoff Altarpiece in 1868, and in 1961 the panels from the smaller polyptych were removed. They are now displayed separately.