Temple Gallery

Established 1959

Beheading of John the Baptist - exhibited at the Temple Gallery, specialists in Russian icons

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UU023. Beheading of John the Baptist

Russian, Palekh School
19th century
22.4 x 17.7 cmClick here to convert metric size to imperial

£1,200 [Sold]Click here to convert price to USD or EUR

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This icon depicts the martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist. The iconography consists of two scenes: on the left the Baptist is shown leaning over a golden cup while a guard with a sword stands behind him in the act of execution. In the cup we see John's severed head. Traditionally the event takes place in John's prison cell (as we find, for example, Caravaggio's famous version), but in icons it is usually shown outside by a mountain, probably referring to John’s spiritual nature (mountains are symbols of paradise in the Judeo-Christian tradition), and also, perhaps, his ascetic nature (i.e. he lived in the 'wilderness'). The image on our right shows the same guard giving the severed head to Salome who stands in the door of Herod's palace.

The narrative derives from the synoptic gospels. For example, in Matthew:

When Herod's birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias [Salome] danced before them, and pleased Herod. Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist's head in a charger. And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath's sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother. (14:1-11)

The iconic interconnection and overlapping of different narratives in a single image is an example of 'simultaneous time' - a common feature of icon painting that brings together various moments of an event in order to disrupt the linear sense of time, in favour of non-linear 'sacred time'.

Detail Images