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Saint John the Baptist
Giorgio Schiavone
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A saint dressed in an animal skin stands on a marble plinth, holding a cross and a scroll. This is John the Baptist, the biblical hermit saint.

John was usually shown in a camel-hair shirt with long hair and a beard, alluding to the years he spent in the desert, punishing his body with uncomfortable clothes and poor food to bring himself closer to God. On his scroll you can see parts of the Latin phrase ‘Ecce Agnus Dei’ (‘Behold the Lamb of God’) with which he identified Christ as the Messiah.

He comes from a large polyptych (a multi-panelled altarpiece) painted by Giorgio Schiavone for the church of San Niccolò in Padua. Other panels from the altarpiece are also in the National Gallery’s collection.

Key facts
Artist Giorgio Schiavone
Artist dates 1436/7 - 1504
Full title Saint John the Baptist
Group S. Niccolò Altarpiece, Padua
Date made probably 1456-61
Medium and support Tempera on wood
Dimensions 72 x 25.5 cm
Inscription summary Inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1860
Inventory number NG630.5
Location in Gallery Not on display
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S. Niccolò Altarpiece, Padua

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These ten panels once made up a polyptych (multi-panelled altarpiece) painted by Giorgio Schiavone, probably between 1456 and 1461. They were perhaps originally made for the chapel of the Frigimelina family in the church of San Niccolò in Padua.

In the fifteenth century the chapel may have been dedicated to the Virgin Mary, as she appears in the middle with saints on either side. We don‘t know exactly how the panels were arranged, but the full-length saints would have been in the bottom layer with the half-length figures above; this was a very popular format for Italian polyptychs. The altarpiece may well have had an elaborate frame, now missing.

The artist’s real name was Juraj Čulinović. Schiavone means ’Slavonian': he came from Dalmatia (in modern-day Croatia) but trained in Squarcione’s workshop in Padua in the late 1450s, when these panels were painted.

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