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The Birth of Saint John the Baptist: Predella Panel
Giovanni di Paolo
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This engaging little scene, full of lifelike detail comes from a series of panels that tell the story of the life of John the Baptist, the prophet who preached the coming of Christ as the Messiah. They once formed a predella, the lowest part of a multi-panelled altarpiece.

The saint has just been born; the story of his birth is recorded in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. His father Zacharias, shown here as an old man, had a vision of an angel who told him he would have a son and call him John. Zacharias was amazed: he and his wife had never been able to conceive and were now both elderly.

As a result of his disbelief the angel took away Zacharias’s voice. Because he could not speak, we see Zacharias writing John’s name in a book resting on his knee.

Key facts
Artist Giovanni di Paolo
Artist dates active by 1417; died 1482
Full title The Birth of Saint John the Baptist: Predella Panel
Series Baptist Predella
Date made 1454
Medium and support Egg tempera on wood
Dimensions 30.5 x 36 cm
Acquisition credit Bought with a contribution from the Art Fund, 1944
Inventory number NG5453
Location in Gallery Room 52
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Baptist Predella

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These four panels once formed part of a predella, the lowest part of an altarpiece. Together they tell the story of the life of John the Baptist, the prophet who preached the coming of Christ as the Messiah.

Events run from left to right like a comic strip. At the far left edge was a scene showing John’s birth, followed by his departure into the wilderness and then the baptism of Christ – the main event in John’s life. Another panel, which may have shown John preaching in the wilderness, would have followed, but this did not enter the National Gallery’s collection with the other panels and we don't know where it is now. The final scene shows the saint after his execution.

The predella was probably part of an polyptych (a multi-panelled altarpiece) made by Giovanni di Paolo for the Augustinian church in Cortona.

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