The Feast of Herod and the Beheading of the Baptist by Giovanni Baronzio

Today we are looking at a curious piece of artwork done by Giovanni Baronzio named ‘The Feast of King Herod and the Beheading of the Baptist’ (ca. 1300-35). 

Giovanni was an Italian painter from the town of Rimini which sat on the coast of the Adratic Sea in what was known as the Papal States. The town had a renowned school of arts influenced by another famous Rimini artist named Giotto. Giovanni was known for his attention to detail, as well as his decorative effects, and created other famous paintings including “Scenes from the life of Christ.” According to the National Gallery of Art he was, “the leading light of the second generation of painters influenced in a decisive way by the activity of Giotto at Rimini” and the painting we are looking at today has been considered one of the most “One of the most important surviving examples of fourteenth-century painting from Rimini” by the Met. 

The painting itself tells the twisted biblical story of the death of St. John the Baptist, who is most infamous for baptizing the bay Jesus in the river of Jordan. He would not live to see the savior’s tragic end. The story is told in four different canonical tellings, and ‘The Antiquties of the Jews’ by Josephus. The Jewish priest traveled gathering a following for Jesus but was killed inside the palace-fortress of Machaerus by Herod Antipas after being imprisoned for declaring his marriage to his brother’s widow illegal. 

Herod had been persuaded from killing him, but he underestimated his wife’s hatred, or did not care. His stepdaughter preformed a dance one evening which moved him to offer her anything she could desire. She asked to be served St. John’s head on a platter, with her mother’s encouragement, and the king obliged. He ordered the priest’s head to be chopped off, and it was presented to the girl.

Was this foreshadowing for the rise of the Reformation? I suppose that will be up to you, but, as of now, his head nor body have officially been found, though there have been mentions of relics found in Bulgaria in 2010.

You can find this fascinating painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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