- Museum number
- Object: Icon with St John the Baptist
Icon painted in egg tempera with gold leaf on a wood panel surfaced with gesso and linen; the panel has a raised border. The half-figure, slightly turned to his right, is set against a gold background; he wears a green mantle and red tunic over a hair shirt, holds a tied scroll in his left hand and raises his right in blessing. The halo is defined by two concentric circles inscribed into the gold ground. Both the halo and painting overlap the raised border in places. He is identified by a Greek inscription in red on either side of the halo: 'St John' to the left and O Prodromos (`the Forerunner') to the right.
- Production date
- 1300 (circa)
Height: 251 millimetres
Width: 202 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Many Byzantine representations of St John the Baptist depict him as emaciated and unkempt, as an ascetic and a man of the wilderness. By contrast, this icon shows him with dishevelled hair and a straggly long beard but as a calm and noble figure. The figure has a strong presence, seeming to come forward from the panel: the illusion is created by the firm modelling of the flesh and garments against the un¬relieved gold ground and by the extension of the figure and the halo on to the raised border.
The dating depends on seeing stylistic parallels with mosaics and frescoes in the parekklesion of the church of St Mary Pammakaristos, now the Fetiye Camii, in Istanbul. If accepted, the connection suggests both a Constantinopolitan provenance and a date of around 1300. The nobility of the figure is also in line with the grand and monumental mosaic of the Deisis in St Sophia (dateable to 1261) where St John Prodromos is on the right of the panel in the South Gallery (Robin Cormack).
Literature: R. Cormack and S. Mihalarias, 'Two icons, more or less Byzantine', Apollo 14 (1986), 6-10. D. Buckton, 'A Byzantine icon for the British Museum', National-Art Collections Fund Review (1987), 84-5. M. Acheimastou-Potamianou (ed.), From Byzantium to El Greco. Greek Frescoes and Icons, London, 1987, no. 11, 152. D. Buckton (ed.), Byzantium: Treasures of Byzantine Art and Culture from British Collections, London, 1994, no. 206, 192. R. Cormack, Icons, London, 2007 (repr. 2014), no. 15, 116.
- On display (G40/dc14/sA)
- Exhibition history
1987 25 Mar-21 Jun, London, Royal Academy of Arts, From Byzantium to El Greco: Icons and Frescoes from Greece
1994 London, British Museum, Byzantium: Treasures of Byzantine Art and Culture from British Collections
2010 4 Jun-4 Sep, Istanbul, The Sakip Sabanci Museum, Byzantium to Istanbul: 8000 Years of a Capital
2012 Mar-Jul, Abu Dhabi, Manarat Al Saadiyat, Treasures of the World’s Cultures
2015 30 Apr- 22 Aug, USA, Clinton, Museum of Russian Icons, Byzantium to Russia: The origins and development of Russian Icons 1200 to 1900.
2015 15 Sep-10 Jan, USA, Norfolk, Chrysler Museum of Art, Byzantium to Russia: The origins and development of Russian icons 1200 to 1900
- The panel has suffered considerable damage from woodworm and has split and been re-joined. The painted surface has been lost from three of the corners.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Formerly the property of a Greek family who left Anatolia for Switzerland in 1921, the icon was bought by the British Museum in 1986 with the help of the National Art Collections Fund, British Museum Publications, and Stavros Niarchos.
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: IC 15 (Icon Collection number)