Gerard van Honthorst 1590 – 1656

The Beheading of St John the Baptist

oil on canvas (350 × 210 cm) — 1618 Museum Santa Maria della Scala, Rome

Gerard van Honthorst biography

This work is linked to Mark 6:27

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Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee, had ordered that the prophet John the Baptist be beheaded. John had been imprisoned because of his criticism of Herod's marriage to Herodias, the wife of Herod's half-brother.

To the left Salome watches the scene. She was Herod's daughter and had asked for the Baptist's head just a few minutes ago, at a banquet.

The victim kneels, praying with his eyes shut. His traditional camel-hair robe is covered by red cloth.

Hovering above the scene is an angel, a messenger of God, symbolizing that John is to be taken to Heaven.

A maid holds a torch that shines light on the key figures.

Van Honthorst painted this large canvas during his long stay in Rome. It still hangs in the church it was made for.

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