Skip to main content
Reading options

Saint John the Baptist Preaching

Catalogue entry

Extracted from:
Carol Plazzotta, Tom Henry, The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings: Volume IV, Raphael (London: The National Gallery, 2022).

© The National Gallery, London

Oil on poplar, 29.2 × 54 cm (painted area 26.2 × 52 cm)


The panel, identified as poplar, consists of a single horizontal board, 1.8 cm thick. Irregular in grain with a large number of knots, it displays a moderate convex warp.1 The left edge has been cut (the other three have probably been at least slightly trimmed). On the reverse, old nail heads, or traces of them, are visible, driven in diagonally 1.5 to 2 cm from the picture edges. There are a series of old nails embedded at both ends and some nail holes along the cut edge.

The preparation is identical to the main altarpiece (NG 1171). The ground is a single layer of white gesso (calcium sulphate bound with animal glue), prepared with a thin priming composed of lead white, powdered glass and a low concentration of lead‐tin yellow. Bubbles in the gesso show up as small white dots in the X‐ray where the priming has filled them. There is an unpainted border at top and bottom with a barbe at the edge of the painted field where the gesso formerly met and covered the original engaged frame (see further in Original appearance below). Ruled vertical incisions mark the edge of the picture field at the sides and the gesso continues to the edges of the panel, covered with some original paint. Black painted borders with minimal traces of red decoration at the left and right edges, slightly overlapping the picture surface, are old but probably not original as they cover losses and flaking paint.2

Two printed labels on the reverse record the picture’s presence in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1876 and the Agnew’s exhibition of 1954–5. A third handwritten label is inscribed in pen and brown ink: ‘Lᵈ Lansdowne / 7² IX[or F² IX].


A very fine ruled vertical line, executed in a dark dry material, bisects the composition, its centre point indicated with a short horizontal mark. Such lines, present in the underdrawing of several paintings by Raphael (e.g. Dream of a Knight, The Procession to Calvary, Saint Catherine and the Garvagh Madonna in the National Gallery), may have helped with the registration of the cartoon. Infrared reflectography confirms that a pricked cartoon was used to transfer the basic design to the panel, since traces of pouncing are clearly evident beneath the fluid material used to join the dots outlining the figures (fig. 2). As usual with Raphael’s small‐scale cartoons, every detail was finely pricked, and the resulting drawing was then elaborated freehand, with additional areas of hatching and cross‐hatching, for example in the shadows of the green cloak of the man seated on the bench (fig. 3). As in The Procession to Calvary (NG 2919), the cartoon was confined to the figures alone, the underdrawing for the background hills being free and sketchy. There are no changes between the underdrawing and the painting in the figures, but the freer drawing of the background is followed less closely and smaller details such as the trees and bushes were not underdrawn. The sky and landscape were brushed in broadly, sometimes penetrating the areas reserved for the figures before they were painted. The Baptist’s cross was not included in the pricked cartoon but was incised afterwards with the aid of a ruler, his halo also being incised using compasses.

Fig. 1

Infrared reflectogram of NG 6480. (© The National Gallery, London)

Fig. 2

Infrared reflectogram detail of NG 6480 showing pounced underdrawing. (© The National Gallery, London)

Fig. 3

Infrared reflectogram detail of NG 6480 showing the hatching in the shadows of the green cloak of the man seated on the bench. (© The National Gallery, London)

Materials and technique4

The sky is natural ultramarine mixed with lead white over azurite mixed with lead white. The mid‐blue drapery of the figure at the far left also consists of ultramarine painted over azurite. The mauve hose of the figure in the red cloak on the left consists of red lake, ultramarine and lead white, in two layers. The red cloak, also in several layers, contains red lake pigment mixed with a little vermilion in the shadows and some white in the highlights. The red glaze on Saint John’s red cloak has been blotted with a textile.

The deep green draperies contain verdigris and are simply painted. The landscape varies in colour from strong pure greens to greenish and yellowish browns, made up of azurite, lead‐tin yellow, yellow earth and lead white, with some verdigris in the upper layers.

There is gold on Saint John’s cross and double‐ringed halo, and gold decoration on some of the costumes of the audience members, now rather worn. It is unclear whether this is mordant gilded or shell gold. In the cross and halo, the gold has in the past been reinforced with gold paint. The flesh is thinly and translucently painted, the white gesso and the hatched shadows contributing to the modelling.

The technique of building up colour with small brushstrokes is not unlike traditional egg tempera methods, though the paint medium has been confirmed to be walnut oil with the addition of a small amount of pine resin in the case of the layer of green glaze. Colourless powdered glass was added to this mixture to improve the drying properties of the paint.


The overall condition of the panel is good, apart from a horizontal split one‐third of the way up on the left side, extending almost half the width of the board. The only paint losses of appreciable size are along the left and to a lesser extent the right edges, along the split, and in the large‐bellied figure wearing a yellow tunic. Small flake losses have occurred along the edges of some of the cracks. The colours remain bright, although it is possible that there has been some fading of the red lakes. The copper‐green pigment used for the trees has become brown where painted thinly over the pale blue sky (some of the foliage in the top right corner covered by the later black border has remained bright green, giving an indication of the original colour of the trees).6

Conservation history

Gustav Waagen, describing the predella when at Bowood House, Wiltshire, in his Treasures of Art in Great Britain (1854), noted that it had been ‘unequally cleaned so that in some places it has still spots of dirt, and has been injured in others’, and in their monograph on Raphael of 1882, Joseph Archer Crowe and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle similarly observed: ‘A sweetly coloured picture, not free from injury from unequal cleaning and partial restoring’.7 A brownish‐black toning containing synthetic pigments and carbon black that formerly covered the landscape, the trees at the left and some of the greens and reds in the figures must have been applied some time after these comments had been published to harmonise this unevenness. The split was strengthened and the picture partially cleaned, revarnished and glazed by the firm of picture restorers Morrill while still in the Lansdowne collection in 1921, and a rival firm, William Dyer & Sons, was employed alongside Morrill to strengthen the split again and treat blisters in 1931.8 On acquisition in 1983, the by now extremely obscured predella was cleaned and restored and the panel treated against woodworm. Four old butterfly keys glued to the panel to secure the split, probably in the nineteenth century, were removed and filled with balsa wood inserts. Old putty and paint extending the composition along the upper and lower borders were also removed. Once the picture had been freed of dirt, a very discoloured varnish and the dark toning layer, a well‐preserved paint surface emerged.9

Original appearance and construction of the Ansidei predella

Saint John the Baptist preaching is the only surviving predella scene from Raphael’s Ansidei Altarpiece dated 1505, commissioned for the chapel dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Bari in S. Fiorenzo, Perugia, by the heirs of the chapel’s founder Filippo di Simone Ansidei (see NG 1171). Not mentioned by Giorgio Vasari in his brief reference to the altarpiece in the 1568 edition of his Lives of the Artists, the predella is first described in Cesare Crispolti’s manuscript record of outstanding works in Perugia of 1597, as consisting of ‘very beautiful little narratives [by Raphael], and worthy of such a man’ (‘molto belle historiette e degne di un tanto uomo’).10 A description of Filippo Ansidei’s chapel, copied in the early eighteenth century from older church records, was published by the historian Lino Manzoni in a local Umbrian periodical in 1899.11 This provides further useful information about the structure of the predella which took the form of a gradino (literally ‘step’), a box‐shaped construction standard in contemporary central Italian altarpiece production. The wide unpainted border at the bottom of the main panel of the altarpiece (see NG 1171) suggests that it was designed to slot in behind the predella box.

The bare borders at the top and bottom edges of the predella panel, together with the raised gesso ridges delimiting the paint surface at these edges, indicate that this scene, and thus presumably its missing counterpart (see following paragraph), was painted within an engaged frame on a long unit that would afterwards have been fitted into the predella box of the altarpiece frame. That this was gilded is confirmed by traces of red bole and gilding that survive beneath the paint layers, both on these barbes and extending a small distance beneath the painting itself.12 Nail fragments visible around the edges in the X‐radiograph may have served to attach this to the front of the panel. Such subsidiary narratives beneath the main panels of altarpieces were frequently painted on a single horizontal plank, the separate scenes separated by vertical painted bands, which may have been the case here (an intact example by Raphael is the predella of the Oddi Coronation in the Vatican). It seems likely that when the Ansidei Altarpiece was dismantled in the mid‐eighteenth century, the attached gilded frame was removed and the predella sawn into sections.

The memorandum transcribed by Manzoni recorded that the gradino was decorated with two scenes, ‘a Saint John the Baptist preaching in the desert on the right, and on the left a Shipwreck, all by the hand of Raphael of Urbino’.13 As was frequently the case, the right and left must refer to the Virgin’s point of view, for the arrangement of the narrative scenes would surely have corresponded with the figures in the main panel, that is, with Saint John the Baptist preaching to the left and the shipwreck – presumably depicting the well‐known posthumous miracle of Saint Nicholas of Bari saving a ship in a storm – to the right. This predella scene most likely disappeared or was destroyed early on (certainly by 1768 when the Scottish antiquary and dealer Colin Morison [1732–1810] sold the altarpiece and this predella panel to Lord Robert Spencer [1747–1831]), since this dynamic subject, unique in Raphael’s surviving oeuvre, would surely otherwise have left some trace. Raphael would have known and perhaps been influenced by the predella illustrating this subject from the polyptych painted by Fra Angelico (active 1417; d. 1455) for the Saint Nicholas chapel in the church of S. Domenico in Perugia of about 1437–8 (the main panel and one of the three predella scenes are in the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, Perugia, and the other two scenes, including Saint Nicholas saving a Ship from sinking, are in the Vatican Museums). Certainly, the figure of Saint Nicholas in the main panel of the Ansidei Madonna pays distant homage to the equivalent in Fra Angelico’s altarpiece.

A tradition that the Ansidei predella comprised three scenes, the two mentioned above flanking a Betrothal of the Virgin, derives from an erroneous conflation by Manzoni of two separate Ansidei commissions in S. Fiorenzo (see other implications of this under NG 1171) and has now been disproved.14 An altarpiece by Sinibaldo Ibi (about 1475–about 1550) , with a predella depicting scenes from the life of Saint Joseph, including as a central component a Betrothal of the Virgin, was commissioned by Filippo’s second cousins, Antonio and Bernardino de Catrano Ansidei, in 1513. Beverley Lyle discovered the contract revealing that the altarpiece adorned the high altar of S. Fiorenzo.15 It must later have been moved to the side chapel dedicated to the Madonna delle Grazie on the north side of the nave where it was recorded in the mid‐seventeenth century, leading to the confusion about the subject and appearance of the Saint Nicholas predella.

Johann David Passavant’s earlier suggestion that the Ansidei predella consisted of three scenes all devoted to the life of the Baptist, unconventional for an altar dedicated to Saint Nicholas, should also be rejected, together with his related claim that the National Gallery picture was the central image.16 Passavant was writing some eighty years after the altarpiece had been sold and did not specify his source. His assertion that the other two scenes were very badly damaged at the time the rest of the altarpiece was sold could explain both the subsequent disappearance of the remainder of the predella and the confusion regarding its subject matter. However, as the main panel and this surviving predella scene both survive in very good condition, it could be that the monks withheld the shipwreck scene in order to sell it to someone else. If a central predella image ever existed, which seems unlikely, it must have been smaller than the two flanking narrative scenes from the lives of the saints.17 Whatever the precise arrangement of these elements, the predella also incorporated two Ansidei coats of arms (figs 4 and 5), and the need to accommodate these in any reconstruction (presumably at the projecting extremities of the predella, which doubled as pedestals for the pilasters of the frame) is a further argument against the existence of a third full narrative scene.18 When Nicola Mónti’s copy of the main panel was framed in a simple gold moulding, and set within the new white marble altar framework devised by Pietro Carattoli, a copy of the predella was not included and all visual record of the original ensemble was lost.

Fig. 4

Sketch of Ansidei arms on the predella and base of the Saint Nicholas altar. Perugia, Archivio di Stato (Scritture disposte per alfabeto, no. 25, La Madonna degli Ansidei a S. Fiorenzo). Image: Archivio di Stato di Perugia / State Archives of Perugia

Fig. 5

Coat of arms from Filippo Ansidei’s catasto entry. Perugia, Archivio di Stato (Catasti, serie II, reg. 7, fol. 152r). Image: Archivio di Stato di Perugia / State Archives of Perugia

Description and style

The Baptist appears in his role as forerunner of Christ, preaching to a throng of all‐male listeners (Luke 3: 1–17). His pointing gesture refers to the coming of Christ (‘one mightier than I’), but it also would have related vertically to the identically attired figure of Saint John the Baptist in the main altarpiece who points to the Infant Christ. In contrast to the simpler frieze‐like composition of The Procession to Calvary, the arrangement of the figures here is more sophisticated, with the three principal groups receding into the picture space. The different factions of the Baptist’s audience are animated not just by a variety of colourful costumes and headgear, but also by their poses and perceptively differentiated characterisation. The rapt attentiveness of the man seated on a bench in the ‘front row’ contrasts, for example, with the evident scepticism of the rotund man in the yellow tunic at the back, his hand resting indignantly on his hip and his thumb stuck into his belt emphasising his large paunch. The exotic turbaned headdress and back‐turned pose of the elegant man seen from behind, who so brilliantly acts as a hinge between the groups, is reminiscent of observer figures in prints by Albrecht Dürer, and indeed the range of characterisation among the other figures could suggest Raphael’s familiarity with the latter’s lively crowd scenes, such as in Christ shown to the People from his Large Passion series (about 1497–1500), which, along with prints by Martin Schongauer, he may have had access to for the first time in cosmopolitan Florence (fig. 6). The vivid colours of the figures’ costumes, designed to enhance the legibility of the scene, are reminiscent of Pietro Perugino’s predellas, but the animation and narrative interest among the bystanders surpass the static, friezelike arrangement of those in the older artist’s comparable predella of Christ’s Baptism (now Musée des Beaux‐Arts, Rouen) commissioned for the altar of the Benedictine abbey of S. Pietro in Perugia in 1495. The beautifully drawn babies (fig. 7) anticipate Raphael’s solutions for Christ and the infant Saint John in Florentine works such as the Terranuova and Bridgewater Madonnas, and indeed may be intended to remind us of the infant cousins, especially in the way one clings in fear to the leg of his father in response to the Baptist’s predictions. Only the contrapposto pose of the Baptist is somewhat formulaic, harking back again to Perugino whose equivalent figure in his Baptism of Christ (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), of around 1498–1500, is extremely close in pose and attire.

Fig. 6

Albrecht Dürer, Ecce Homo (detail) from the Large Passion, about 1499. Woodcut, 39 × 28 cm. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Fig. 7

Detail of NG 6480. (© The National Gallery, London)

Drawings and prints

The only preparatory drawing known for Saint John the Baptist preaching is a sheet of rough black‐chalk sketches once in the Viti Antaldi collection and now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, which includes the torso and legs of the Baptist, and, in reverse, two of the seated listeners (fig. 8).19

Fig. 8

Raphael, Sketches for John the Baptist preaching, about 1504–5. Black chalk, 20.3 × 14 cm. Oxford, Ashmolean Museum (WA1846.174v). Image © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

As mentioned above (under Underdrawing), infrared reflectography demonstrates that the worked‐up design was transferred to the panel by means of a pricked cartoon. A reference in a 1771 inventory of the Palazzo Ansidei to a similar sized drawing of the same subject raises the intriguing possibility that the cartoon may have remained in the family’s possession.20 This is not, however, the ‘cartoon’ of this scene mentioned by Passavant in the collection of the Scottish politician, art historian and virtuoso William Stirling of Pollok (1818–1878), and presented to the Royal Library in the 1860s (fig. 9).21 The latter is in fact a copy of Raphael’s composition in brown wash heightened with gold, now ascribed to Jacopo Ligozzi (1547–1627).22

Fig. 9

After Raphael (attributed to Jacopo Ligozzi), The Preaching of Saint John the Baptist. Brown wash heightened with gold, 28 × 54.2 cm. Windsor, The Royal Collection / HM Queen Elizabeth II (RCIN 912748). Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2022

The predella was engraved to scale and printed in reverse by the Venetian printmaker Antonio Capellan (about 1740–1793) (fig. 10).23 Inscribed ‘Nobilissimo viro Roberto Spencer / Insignis hujus Tabulae Possessori / C. Morison L. D. [= libens dedicavit] (‘to the most noble Robert Spencer, owner of this distinguished picture, willingly dedicated by Colin Morison’), the print was evidently commissioned by Colin Morison soon after 1768 when he sold the altarpiece and predella to Lord Robert Spencer, to whom it is dedicated. Capellan was again engaged by Morison to engrave the Raphaels in the Borghese collection in 1771, although these do not appear to have been executed.24

Fig. 10

Antonio Capellan after Raphael, Saint John the Baptist preaching, about 1768. Etching with engraving, 34.5 × 56.8 cm. London, Victoria and Albert Museum. © V&A Images / Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Subsequent history

The predella remained in situ beneath the main altarpiece on the Saint Nicholas altar in the church of S. Fiorenzo until 1768, when both were bought by Colin Morison, who brought them to England, selling them on to Lord Robert Spencer in the last months of that year for a record price (for the transaction see Subsequent history under NG 1171).25

Previous owners

The Spencer family

The young Lord Robert Spencer (for whom see also Previous owners under NG 1171) had almost certainly been asked while on his Grand Tour in Italy to seek out suitable works for Blenheim Palace, the grand residence of his brother the Duke of Marlborough (1739–1817). Early sources record that he at once presented the main altarpiece to the duke.26 Perhaps as a reward for his efforts, he kept the single surviving predella panel for himself. Antonio Capellan’s engraving after the composition (see under Drawings and prints above), commissioned by Colin Morison and dedicated to Lord Robert, must have been made at the time of the transaction. Immediately on his return to England in 1768, the young aristocrat was elected MP for New Woodstock, launching a political career as a staunch Whig that lasted until his retirement in 1820. His appearance at this moment is recorded in a romantic portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792), commissioned by the Duke of Marlborough in 1769, which hung first at Blenheim and later at Lord Robert’s house, Woolbeding, in Midhurst, West Sussex.27 He had previously sat to Reynolds at the age of about ten years old (the portrait is still at Blenheim), and appears to have kept in touch with the artist for much of his life. Both were members of the gentlemen’s club Brooks’s (where Spencer had significant success at gaming), and it is recorded that Lord Robert visited Reynolds on 2 June 1790 by which time failing eyesight had caused him to retire from painting.28

Lord Robert acquired Woolbeding House in 1791. An inveterate gambler, the house was apparently bought with money he won as keeper of the Whig statesman Charles James Fox’s (1749–1806) faro bank at Brooks’s.29 He made significant alterations to the house by roofing in the interior courtyard of the original quadrangular plan. Most of the present interior decoration dates to this time, and he was also praised for his good taste in his planting of the garden. Although a member of the Society of Dilettanti from 1770, with Reynolds, Fox and other friends, he does not appear to have possessed a significant art collection, and the art in the house reflected rather his political enthusiasms, including several portraits and busts of Fox still present to this day. The Raphael did, however, hang at Woolbeding.30 In 1799 Lord Robert lost again at gambling, so heavily that he was obliged to sell his town house and pictures, which included a handful of Dutch seascapes and genre scenes and several landscapes by Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788). The Raphael failed to make its reserve of 140 guineas in 1799 (lower in value than three Gainsboroughs in the same sale) and of £90 the following year, presumably due to its small scale and unfamiliar appearance as a work by the artist, predellas by whom had scarcely appeared on the market in England.31

The Petty-Fitzmaurice family

Lord Robert eventually succeeded in selling the predella, including it anonymously in a sale of miscellaneous pictures at Phillips in 1828. It was bought by Henry Petty‐Fitzmaurice, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne (1780–1863), a distinguished Whig statesman, philanthropist and patron of the arts, who served in the House of Lords under eight prime ministers, holding the offices of Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary and Lord President of the Council. At different times a Trustee of the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the British Museum, he had a reputation for high morals and sympathy with the oppressed, championing anti‐slavery, Catholic emancipation, and law and education reform. His father, William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne (1737–1805), Prime Minister from 1782 to 1783, was created Marquess of Lansdowne in 1784 for negotiating peace with America after the War of Independence. In 1765 he had bought from John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713–1792), a grand property in Berkeley Square, which Robert Adam (1728–1792) had begun to design and build for its former owner in 1761, and which later came to be known as Lansdowne House. He continued to employ Adam both in Lansdowne House and at Bowood House, the family’s country seat in Wiltshire, commissioning Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716–1783) to landscape the park in 1762–8.

After the death of his first wife, Lord Shelburne travelled to Italy and began, with the help of artist‐dealer Gavin Hamilton (1723–1798), to build a remarkable collection of paintings and antiquities. One of his star acquisitions was Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks (NG 1093), which he bought for the very high sum of £800 from Hamilton who had acquired it from the administrators of S. Caterina alla Ruota in Milan in 1785.32 The majority of the Lansdowne collection was sold on Lord Shelburne’s death by his son John Henry Petty (1765–1809) who succeeded him as 2nd Marquess, inheriting not just his father’s huge estate, but also substantial debts.33 John survived his father by only four years due to ill health. The title then passed to his half‐brother Henry Petty‐Fitzmaurice, who made many improvements to Bowood House, which had been left temporarily uninhabitable by John. It was Henry who re‐established a significant collection of art and antiquities in the tradition of his father, adding to the mix his own predilection for the work of living English artists, many examples of which remain at Bowood. Anna Jameson noted that when he succeeded his half‐brother, there was ‘not, I believe, a single picture in the family mansion, except, perhaps, a few family portraits’, but by the time she wrote her Companion guide in 1844, there were 160, ‘not a few of rare interest and value’. Although the collection was ‘strictly private’, she wrote, ‘I have never known any possessor of rare and beautiful things, who seemed so really and habitually to enjoy all the pleasure they can impart … I believe that no lover of art, foreign or English, who came properly introduced, was ever denied access to the collection’.34 The Raphael predella was one work that the 3rd Marquess managed to obtain for a bargain price. In a note in the picture file at Bowood (where the Raphael was listed as no. 181), his daughter‐in‐law, Emily, Lady Lansdowne (1819–1895), recorded how ‘he went at the last minute to a miscellaneous sale at Phillips and bought the painting for £80’, commenting that ‘he got it very cheap’.35 Soon after it had been acquired, the picture ‘was put out on an easel for opinions on the occasion of a large dinner party at L.H. [Lansdowne House] […] and was then at once recognised as Lord Robert Spencer’s’, who had put it up for sale anonymously because of ongoing debts.36 It subsequently hung for several generations occasionally at Lansdowne House but mainly at Bowood.37

The National Gallery first approached the 6th Marquess of Lansdowne (1872–1936) about acquiring the Raphael predella in 1929 (when it was valued for estate duty at £4,000). Lord Crawford, then Chairman of the Trustees, wrote suggesting it might be donated as a memorial picture to the late Lord Lansdowne, who had served as Trustee of the Gallery from 1894 to 1927. This would perhaps have been on the suggestion of the Director, Charles Holmes, whose esteem for Raphael may be found in several of his publications. Lord Lansdowne however replied, ‘I do not want to part with the Raphael predella which (a) I could not bear to see displaced from the central position in which I have known it all my life at Bowood, and (b) might be sold for a successor’s death duties for a very large sum!’38 However, he agreed for it to be examined in the Gallery alongside the main altarpiece when he lent it to the Royal Academy the following year, eventually commemorating his father’s service to the Gallery with the portrait by Salvator Rosa (1615–1673) now known as Philosophy (NG 4680), in 1933.

Lord Lansdowne’s heir, Henry, predeceased him in 1933, and his other two sons died in 1944, while in action during the Second World War, so the collection passed, with the title of Nairne, to his eldest daughter, Lady Katherine Evelyn Constance Petty‐Fitzmaurice (1912–1995). In 1933 she had married Edward Clive Bigham (1906–1979), who on the death of his father inherited the title of Viscount Mersey in 1956. She and her husband moved into the Mersey family seat of Bignor Park, Pulborough, Sussex, in 1959, where the painting hung alongside others inherited from the Lansdowne collection. Shortly after her husband’s death in 1979, the Dowager Lady Mersey gave the Raphael, already on long‐term loan to the National Gallery since 1976, to her eldest son, Richard, 4th Viscount Mersey (1934–2006). In 1983 the picture was offered to the Gallery, and was bought on the grounds of its quality, the importance of reuniting the only surviving element of the predella with the main panel, and the fact that it was the only Raphael then known to be in private hands in the UK other than those in the Sutherland collection (the Madonna of the Pinks [NG 6596] was not discovered until 1991).39


London 1876 (181); London 1930 (402); London 1954–5 (48); London 1960 (341); London 1976–8, National Gallery, long‐term loan from Lady Mersey, and subsequently her son Richard, 4th Viscount Mersey; London 1986–7 (6); London 2004–5 (46); Città di Castello 2006 (6).


There is no record of the frame of the predella while in the Mersey collection. When the picture was first loaned to the Gallery in 1976, it was displayed let into the frame of the altarpiece at its base.40 This arrangement lasted until the predella was acquired in 1983, when a simple new fifteenth‐century Italian‐style carved moulding water‐gilt frame was designed and made for it by the then Head of the Framing Department, John England.


Ansidei Chapel, S. Fiorenzo, Perugia; bought from the church in 1768 by Colin Morison; by whom sold in London in the same year to Lord Robert Spencer (see provenance of the main panel, NG 1171); sale, Christie’s, 31 May 1799 (lot 86), bought in, 140 guineas;41 reconsigned by Lord Spencer for sale, Christie’s, 7 May 1800 (lot 95), bought in, £90; and later, Phillips, 8 July 1828, lot 54 (£80);42 at which bought by Henry Petty‐Fitzmaurice, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne (displayed at Lansdowne House, Mayfair and Bowood House, Wiltshire); by descent to Charles Hope Petty‐Fitzmaurice, 7th Marquess of Lansdowne and 10th Lord Nairne (1917–1944), who died childless, killed in action in the Second World War; thence to his sister Lady Katherine Evelyn Constance Petty‐Fitzmaurice, who had married (in 1933) Edward Clive Bigham, from 1956 3rd Viscount Mersey; shortly after the latter’s death in 1979, the Dowager Lady Mersey gave the Raphael to her eldest son, Richard, 4th Viscount Mersey; from whom bought by the National Gallery by private treaty sale (Morton Fund), 1983.


The author is grateful to the following for their assistance in the preparation of this entry: Maria Alambritis, Donal Cooper, Nicholas Penny, Alberto Maria Sartore, and Cathryn Spence.

1. The technical section that follows is based on observations made when the picture was taken off display for examination on 1 March 2001 and 21 October 2003, together with material in: London, National Gallery Conservation Department, conservation dossier for NG 6480, and published in Plesters in Shearman and Hall 1990, pp. 32–7, and Roy, Spring and Plazzotta 2004, pp. 4–35 (esp. pp. 25–6); it relies on material and expertise in the technical department of the National Gallery, and especially on input from Marika Spring, Jill Dunkerton and Rachel Billinge. Four cross sections have been published, see National Gallery 2007–10: ‘Saint John the Baptist Preaching, Raphael (1483–1520), NG6480’, ‘Microscopy: Cross Sections’. (Back to text.)

2. Braham and Wyld 1984, p. 19; Plesters in Shearman and Hall 1990, p. 33. (Back to text.)

3. Extracted from National Gallery 2007–10: ‘Saint John the Baptist Preaching, Raphael (1483–1520), NG6480’, Rachel Billinge, ‘Study of Saint John the Baptist Preaching (NG6480) with Infrared Reflectography’, 2009. (Back to text.)

5. See National Gallery 2007–10: ‘Saint John the Baptist Preaching, Raphael (1483–1520), NG6480’, Conservation, Jill Dunkerton, ‘The Condition of Saint John the Baptist Preaching (NG6480)’, 2009. (Back to text.)

7. Waagen 1854, III, p. 162; Crowe and Cavalcaselle 1882–5, I (1882), p. 242. (Back to text.)

8. See NGA, NG16/421/2 Registry files: Estate Duty Office: General correspondence, 1924–1929; NGA, Director’s file S1092: ‘Raphael, Saint John the Baptist Preaching, NG6480’, 1983. The 1931 record was kindly retrieved from the Bowood Archive by Dr Cathryn Spence, Archivist at Bowood. See Bowood, Archive: Picture file for Raphael, Saint John the Baptist Preaching. (Back to text.)

9. Before, during and after cleaning photographs are illustrated in Plesters in Shearman and Hall 1990, pls 14–16. (Back to text.)

10. Shearman 2003, II, p. 1419. (Back to text.)

11. Manzoni 1899, p. 630; Cooper and Plazzotta 2004, p. 731, and Appendix 5. From the dates of the descendants of Filippo Ansidei named as owning the patronage rights of the chapel, the friars’ source can be dated to the mid‐seventeenth century. (Back to text.)

12. Braham and Wyld 1984, p. 23; Plesters in Shearman and Hall 1990, pp. 32–3. (Back to text.)

13. Cooper and Plazzotta 2004, p. 731, and Appendix 5. (Back to text.)

14. Manzoni 1899, p. 637; see Cooper and Plazzotta 2004, pp. 726–9. (Back to text.)

15. Lyle 2008, p. 36, and Appendix 2, pp. 353–5. (Back to text.)

16. Passavant 1833, p. 148; Passavant 1839–58, II (1839), p. 44. (Back to text.)

17. Braham and Wyld 1984, p. 16, note 6. (Back to text.)

18. Cooper and Plazzotta 2004, pp. 729–31, and Appendix 6. (Back to text.)

19. Inv. WA1846.174v; Parker 1956, no. 533v; Joannides 1983, no. 96v, noted that Sylvia Ferino was the first to associate this drawing with the picture; see Knab, Mitch and Oberhuber 1983, p. 564, under no. 89. (Back to text.)

20. ASP, Famiglie privati: Ansidei, Carte miscellanea no. 81, Inventario di beni mobili di Casa Ansidei 1771, fol. 104v: ‘Sotto al detto un disegno longo piedi 2:1/2 alto piedi 1 rappresentante S. Gio: che predica, con cornice dorato, e uno cristallo’ (‘Beneath the aforesaid a drawing 2:1/2 foot long and 1 foot high representing Saint John preaching, with a gilt frame, and glazed’). I am grateful to Donal Cooper for this reference. (Back to text.)

21. Passavant 1872, p. 210, note 2. (Back to text.)

22. Popham and Wilde 1949, p. 319, no. 817; inv. RCIN 912748, see Royal Collection Trust n.d.a. (Back to text.)

23. Bernini Pezzini et al. 1985, p. 186 (VI.2). For Capellan, see Passamani 1975. (Back to text.)

24. Gori Gandellini 1771, I, p. 222: ‘al presente sta occupato nell’intagliare le opere di Raffaello esistenti nella Eccellentissima Casa Borghesi, per commissione del Sig. Morison, antiquario e pittore inglese’ (‘at present he is occupied with engraving the works of Raphael that exist in the most excellent Casa Borghese, on the commission of Mr. Morison, English antiquary and painter’). (Back to text.)

25. Cassidy 2008, pp. 672–3. (Back to text.)

26. A guide to Oxford written in the early 1770s, shortly after the altarpiece’s sale, notes that it was ‘a present of the Right Hon. Lord Robert Spencer to his brother’, George, 4th Duke of Marlborough, while a revised edition (about 1777–8) states probably more accurately that it was ‘brought over by the Right Hon. Lord Robert Spencer to his Brother the Duke of Marlborough, having been purchased by him in 1768, from the Cappella Ansidei at Perugia’; see Anon. 1770, p. 95, Anon. 1777–8, p. 99; see Cassidy 2008, p. 672, note 5. (Back to text.)

27. Mannings 2000, I, p. 425, no. 1671, fig. 264. Exported to the United States in the 1970s, it was bought back for Woolbeding in 2004 by the house’s then owner, the Hon. Simon Sainsbury (1930–2006), who subsequently bequeathed it to the National Trust to ensure it remains there. (Back to text.)

28. Ibid., no. 1672. (Back to text.)

29. See Thorne 1986. Faro, or ‘pharaoh’, was a French seventeenth‐century gambling card game, played between a banker and several players, that became extremely popular in England in the eighteenth century. (Back to text.)

30. According to NGA, dossier for NG 6480: Philip Pouncey, unsigned typescript. (Back to text.)

31. At around the same time, the five elements of the Colonna Altarpiece predella (see NG 2919), offered in three separate lots in the two famous sales of the Orléans collection of 1798 and 1800, were dispersed among different English private collections. (Back to text.)

32. Cassidy 2011, II, p. 46, letter 213. (Back to text.)

33. The Bowood pictures were sold by the auctioneers Peter Coxe, Burrell and Foster at Pall Mall, 25 February 1806, with the Lansdowne House pictures being sold in situ by the same auctioneers, 19–20 March 1806. (Back to text.)

34. Jameson 1844, pp. 287–8. (Back to text.)

35. See Bowood, Archive: Picture file for Raphael, Saint John the Baptist Preaching. I am grateful to Dr Cathryn Spence for providing this reference. (Back to text.)

36. See NGA, dossier for NG 6480: Philip Pouncey, unsigned typescript, based on a note by Emily Lansdowne in the Archive at Bowood (see Bowood, Archive: Picture file for Raphael, Saint John the Baptist Preaching). (Back to text.)

37. Passavant 1839–58, II (1839), pp. 44–5, and Jameson 1844, pp. 307–8, no. 37, record the painting at Bowood House; a thank you note to Mr Vaughan for sending a photograph of the painting in 1861 says it is at Bowood (see Bowood, Archive: Picture file for Raphael, Saint John the Baptist Preaching). By 1927 it hung in the Large Library at Bowood and by 1945 in the Corridor. An annotated copy of Ambrose 1897 in the National Gallery library also records the picture hanging at Bowood in 1931. Notes provided by Dr Cathryn Spence. (Back to text.)

38. NGA, NG14/68/1: Acquisition file, 4 November 1929: letter from Lord Lansdowne to Lord Crawford, 4 November 1929. (Back to text.)

39. NGA, NG1/17: Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 4 February 1982–23 January 1986, entry for 3 February 1983, p. 67. (Back to text.)

40. See NGA, NG23/1976: Phyllis Rowlands, ‘Two Raphaels Reunited’ [press release], 27 August 1976. (Back to text.)

41. See NGA, dossier for NG 6480: Francis Russell, letter to Viscountess Mersey, 2 February 1977. Getty Research Institute n.d., sale catalogue A‐2432. (Back to text.)

42. See Getty Research Institute n.d., sale catalogues A‐2429 and Br‐3159 (in the latter, the painting is erroneously stated to have been ‘part of an Altar Piece in a convent at Foligno’). The price is noted in NGA, dossier for NG 6480: Philip Pouncey, unsigned typescript. (Back to text.)


Perugia, Archivio di Stato
London, National Gallery Archive

List of archive references cited

  • Bowood, Archive: Picture file for Raphael, Saint John the Baptist Preaching
  • ASP, Famiglie privati: Ansidei, Carte miscellanea no. 81, Inventario di beni mobili di Casa Ansidei 1771

List of references cited

  • Ambrose 1897
    Ambrose, George E., Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures Belonging to the Marquess of Lansdowne, K.G. at Lansdowne House, London, and Bowood, Wilts., London 1897
  • Anon. 1770
    Anon., The New Oxford Guide, Oxford n.d. [but probably 1770] (6th edn)
  • Anon. 1777–8
    Anon., The New Oxford Guide, Oxford n.d. [but probably 1777–8, a later edition but still published as 6th edn]
  • Bernini Pezzini et al. 1985
    Bernini Pezzini, Grazia, et al., Raphael invenit: Stampe da Raffaello nelle collezioni dell’Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica, Rome 1985
  • Braham and Wyld 1984
    Braham, Allan, and Martin Wyld, ‘Raphael’s S. John the Baptist Preaching, National Gallery Technical Bulletin, VIII, 1984, pp. 15–23
  • Cassidy 2008
    Cassidy, Brendan, ‘A Note on the Later History of Raphael’s Ansidei Altarpiece’, The Burlington Magazine, CL, no. 1267, October 2008, pp. 672–5
  • Cassidy 2011
    Cassidy, Brendan, The Life & Letters of Gavin Hamilton (1723–1798): Artist & Art Dealer in Eighteenth‐Century Rome, 2 vols, London and Turnhout 2011
  • Cooper and Plazzotta 2004
    Cooper, Donal, and Carol Plazzotta, ‘Raphael’s Ansidei Altarpiece in the National Gallery’, The Burlington Magazine, CXLVI, no. 1220, 2004, pp. 720–31
  • Crowe and Cavalcaselle 1882–5
    Crowe, Joseph Archer, and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle, Raphael: His Life and Works, 2 vols, London 1882–5
  • Getty Research Institute n.d.
    Getty Research Institute, Getty Provenance Index®, Los Angeles n.d.,, accessed 25 October 2021
  • Gori Gandellini 1771
    Gori Gandellini, Giovanni, Notizie istoriche degli intagliatori, 3 vols, Siena 1771
  • Jameson 1844
    Jameson, Anna B., Companion to the Most Celebrated Private Galleries of Art in London, London 1844
  • Joannides 1983
    Joannides, Paul, The Drawings of Raphael, Oxford 1983
  • Knab, Mitch and Oberhuber 1983
    Knab, Eckhart, Erwin Mitch and Konrad Oberhuber (with Sylvia Ferino Pagden), Raphael: Die Zeichnungen, Stuttgart 1983
  • Lyle 2008
    Lyle, Beverley Nicola, Peripheral Backwater or Innovative Upland? Patterns of Franciscan Patronage in Renaissance Perugia, c.1390–1527, PhD dissertation, Oxford Brookes University, September 2008
  • Mannings 2000
    Mannings, David, Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, 2 vols, New Haven and London 2000
  • Manzoni 1899
    Manzoni, Lino, ‘La Madonna degli Ansidei’, Bollettino della Regia Deputazione di Storia Patria per l’Umbria, V, 1899, pp. 627–45
  • Parker 1956
    Parker, Karl T., Catalogue of the Collection of Drawings in the Ashmolean Museum, Volume II: The Italian Schools, Oxford 1956
  • Passamani 1975
    Passamani, Bruno, ‘Capellan, Antonio’, Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Rome 1975, vol. 18,‐capellan_%28Dizionario‐Biografico%29/, accessed 14 February 2022
  • Passavant 1833
    Passavant, Johann David, Kunstreise durch England und Belgien, Frankfurt 1833
  • Passavant 1839–58
    Passavant, Johann David, Rafael von Urbino und sein Vater Giovanni Santi, 3 vols, Leipzig 1839–58
  • Passavant 1872
    Passavant, Johann David, Raphael of Urbino and his Father Giovanni Santi, London and New York 1872
  • Popham and Wilde 1949
    Popham, Arthur E., and Johannes Wilde, The Italian Drawings of the XV and XVI Centuries in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle, London 1949
  • Roy, Spring and Plazzotta 2004
    Roy, Ashok, Marika Spring and Carol Plazzotta, ‘Raphael’s Early Work in the National Gallery: Paintings before Rome’, National Gallery Technical Bulletin, XXV, 2004, pp. 4–35
  • Royal Collection Trust n.d.a
    Royal Collection Trust, ‘After Raphael (Urbino 1483–Rome 1520), The Preaching of St John the Baptist’,, accessed 8 February 2022
  • Shearman 2003
    Shearman, John, Raphael in Early Modern Sources, 1483–1602, 2 vols, New Haven and London 2003
  • Shearman and Hall 1990
    Shearman, John, and Marcia B. Hall, eds, The Princeton Raphael Symposium: Science in the Service of Art History, Princeton 1990
  • Thorne 1986
    Thorne, R.G., ‘SPENCER, Lord Robert (1747–1831), of Woolbeding, nr. Midhurst, Suss.’, in R.G. Thorne, ed., The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1790–1820, 5 vols, London 1986,‐1820/member/spencer‐robert‐1747‐1831/, accessed 9 October 2021
  • Waagen 1854
    Waagen, Gustav, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, 3 vols, London 1854

List of exhibitions cited

London 1876

Exhibition of the Works of Old Masters, Royal Academy, London

London 1930

Exhibition of Italian Art, Royal Academy, London

London 1954–5

Loan Exhibition of the Lansdowne Collection, Agnew’s, London

London 1960

Italian Art in Britain, Royal Academy, London

London 1986–7

Director’s Choice: Selected Acquisitions 1978–1986: An Exhibition to Mark the Retirement of Sir Michael Levey, National Gallery, London

London 2004–5

Raphael: From Urbino to Rome, 20 October 2004 – 16 January 2005, National Gallery, London

Città di Castello 2006

Raffaello tra Città di Castello e Perugia, 24 March – 11 June 2006, Pinacoteca Comunale, Città di Castello

About this version

Version 0, generated from file dated 01/01/0001 and stylesheet dated 01/01/0001. Entries for NG1171 and NG6480 created from design‐ready Word document and prepared for publication.

Cite this entry

Permalink (this version)
Permalink (latest version)
Chicago style
Plazzotta, Carol. "NG 6480, Saint John the Baptist preaching". Version 0, January 1, 0001.
Harvard style
Plazzotta, Carol (0001) NG 6480, Saint John the Baptist preaching. Version 0. Available at: (Accessed: 22 June 2024).
MHRA style
Plazzotta, Carol, NG 6480, Saint John the Baptist preaching, version 0 (0001) <> [accessed: 22 June 2024]