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Cornelis van Haarlem, The Preaching of Saint John the Baptist

Key facts
Full title The Preaching of Saint John the Baptist
Artist Cornelis van Haarlem
Artist dates 1562 - 1638
Date made 1602
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 100 × 180 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Bought, 1978
Inventory number NG6443
Location Room 24
Collection Main Collection
The Preaching of Saint John the Baptist
Cornelis van Haarlem

The central character of this painting is hidden in the shadows: a man with long hair and a beard who seems to draw the attention of the people gathered before him. This is Saint John the Baptist, standing on what looks like an improvised pulpit. The large crowd is divided between conversation and close attention to John’s announcement of the coming of Christ. The Gospel of Matthew recounts how people flocked from Jerusalem, Judea and ‘all the region round about Jordan’ to hear John’s message and to be baptised by him. Cornelis took great care to depict a variety of people, some looking like his Haarlem contemporaries, others dressed more exotically.

Cornelis seems to have adopted the large-scale landscape with a biblical subject from the Flemish painter Karel van Mander. The subject of Saint John preaching was popular in Netherlandish art of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, possibly reflecting contemporary debates about open-air sermons by Calvinist preachers.

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