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Saint John the Baptist, c. 1329

Pietro Lorenzetti
Italian, active c. 1306-1348?
Tempera and gold leaf on panel (one of a pair)
49-3/4 x 18-3/8 in. (126.4 x 46.7 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
F.1973.08.1.P
© The Norton Simon Foundation

On view

This panel and that of the Prophet Elisha are fragments of a major altarpiece that belonged to the Carmelite church of San Niccolò del Carmine, Siena. The altarpiece functioned as a manifesto of the Carmelite Order, narrating its origin from the Old Testament prophet Elijah to his successor Elisha, to whom the Carmelites traced their heritage. Elisha and Saint John the Baptist originally flanked a central panel depicting the Madonna and Child enthroned with saints.

Lorenzetti presented both figures standing solidly within the clearly implied space of an architectural niche. Keenly observed details—the weathered skin and camel hair garment of the Baptist—impart vivid characterizations to these holy men. The artist’s sophisticated palette is evident in the striking use of red for the Baptist’s cloak and the myriad shades of white in Elisha’s cope. Full length, calm, and dignified, these figures form compelling and immediate images.

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