Icon of St John the Baptist (01551)
Exhibition room: IV.1α Society and art in Venetian Crete
Date: 15th c.
Dimensions (cm): 122,5x97
The saint is depicted in a stony desert, winged as befits a "corporeal angel", and conversing with Christ, emerging from on high in an arc of heaven with rays, who is painted on a smaller scale and shown blessing. The Baptist is holding a cruciform staff in his right hand and an unfurled scroll with writing on it in his left. At the bottom right the saint's decapitated head, encircled by a halo, is placed in a gold basin with a foot, a direct reference to his martyrdom. In the left-hand corner, symmetrically aligned with the head, is a tree with an axe and a turtle dove. The latter is a symbol of the Baptist, according to a hymn which is sung at the evening service on the feast of the Birth of the Baptist (24 June). In the far right corner is the artist's signature: ΧΕΙΡ ΑΓΓΕΛΟΥ (by the hand of Angelos).
The composition, already well known in Byzantine times, became widespread in Post-Byzantine painting. The depiction of the turtle dove is less common and is considered an innovation introduced by the painter Angelos under the influence of Italian painting. The icon is one of the most important works of the foremost icon painter in the first half of the 15th century, the Cretan artist Angelos, and confirms his familiarity with Palaiologan painting.