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Pier Francesco Mola, Saint John the Baptist preaching in the Wilderness

Key facts
Full title Saint John the Baptist preaching in the Wilderness
Artist Pier Francesco Mola
Artist dates 1612 - 1666
Date made about 1640
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 54 × 70 cm
Acquisition credit Holwell Carr Bequest, 1831
Inventory number NG69
Location Room 37
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Saint John the Baptist preaching in the Wilderness
Pier Francesco Mola

Saint John the Baptist sits on a rock in a wooded landscape. He is preaching to a group of people in Oriental dress: according to the Gospel of Luke (3: 1–17), John spent some years living as a hermit in the wilderness, preaching repentance and baptising people in the river Jordan. His followers thought he might be the Messiah, but he told them that he was merely the precursor of Jesus: here he points to the slightly ghost-like figure of Jesus walking in the background.

This small painting is characteristic of Mola, who specialised in classicising scenes drawn from mythology, the Bible and poetry, set in landscapes inspired by north Italian art. Its naturalism, lighting and tightly cropped composition show the strong influence of Guercino.

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