Icon of St John the Baptist

Byzantine, around AD 1300
From Constantinople (modern Istanbul, Turkey)

In this compelling painting, St John gazes directly at the viewer. Despite his long wild hair and straggly beard he projects a sense of wisdom and serenity. He is identified by a Greek inscription in red - on the left side of the halo: 'St John' and on the right side: 'o Prodromos' ('the Forerunner'). His ascetic background is evident; under his red tunic and long green mantle he wears a hair shirt. He holds a scroll in his left hand and raises his right in blessing.

The wooden panel, prepared with a linen and gesso surface, has a raised border which frames the saint. The lower part of the figure and his incised halo break this frame, projecting him into the viewer's space. His beautifully modelled face and garments are set against the continuous gold leaf ground, giving the saint a sense of tangible reality in cosmic space. The figural style of this painting is comparable to frescoes and mosaics made in Constantinople around AD 1300.

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More information


D. Buckton (ed.), Byzantium: treasures of Byzant (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)

R. Cormack and S. Mihalarias, 'Two icons, more or less Byzantine', Apollo-2, 124 (1986)


Height: 251.000 mm
Width: 202.000 mm

Museum number

M&ME 1986,7-8,1


Purchased with the aid of the National Art Collections Fund, British Museum Publications Ltd. and Stavros Niarchos, Esq.


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