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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. Above is a photographic reconstruction of the original polytych. This beautiful altarpiece functioned as a manifesto of the Carmelite Order. It narrated their origin and unbroken authority from the Old Testament Prophet Elijah who stands near the Virgin, to his successor Elisha, to then fourteenth century Siena. Elisha, the prophet’s successor and founder of the Carmelites stands to the left, and John the Baptist who like Elijah also prophesized the coming of the Messiah, stands to the right, pointing to the important figures in the main panel.

To accomplish this ambitious pictorial program, the Order commissioned Pietro Lorenzetti, a Sienese artist of great skill and imagination: note his keen observations with regard to portraying the aged Elisha and weathered skin and camel hair garment of the Baptist. Each figure stands solidly within the clearly implied space of an architectural niche. The artist’s well-conceived 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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