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The Head of John the Baptist brought to Herod
Giovanni di Paolo
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John the Baptist’s head is presented to King Herod on a golden platter. He recoils in disgust, while his guests cover their eyes, unable to look. The girl in a pink dress is Salome, whose dancing had delighted Herod so much that he offered her whatever she wished for. Her mother, Herod’s wife, asked her to demand the head of John the Baptist; she disliked John for criticising her marriage to Herod.

The arches in the background and the gestures and arrangement of the figures strongly resemble the sculpted bronze panel showing the same event which was made by Donatello and Giovanni di Turino for the font of the Baptistery in Siena in around 1427.

Key facts
Artist Giovanni di Paolo
Artist dates active by 1417; died 1482
Full title The Head of John the Baptist brought to Herod: Predella Panel
Series Baptist Predella
Date made 1454
Medium and support Egg tempera on wood
Dimensions 31 x 37 cm
Acquisition credit Bought with a contribution from the Art Fund, 1944
Inventory number NG5452
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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