St John the Baptist

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reference number: RI_124

second half of the 19th century

tempera on wooden panel

31 x 27 cm

The icon follows the traditional iconography: St. John is depicted half-length, holding an open scroll with his left hand and pointing his right hand at the naked Infant Christ lying in the Eucharistic chalice. The text on the scroll echoes the gesture: I HAVE SEEN AND I TESTIFY THAT THIS IS THE LAMB (John 1:29, 34). The distinct style of the icon marked by the use of dark, muted colours highlighted with gold in combination with flat, linear treatment of the figure attests to its production in a workshop of Guslitsy, one of the largest Old Believer centres of Imperial Russia.


In Christian tradition St. John is revered as the last and one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament: “truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11). The Gospels portray John as the forerunner of Jesus, who announced the coming of the Messiah. The Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) describe the central episode of St. John’s life – the baptism Jesus in the river Jordan. Sometime after baptizing Jesus, John was imprisoned by Herod Antipas (4 BC-AD 39) and later executed by beheading. St. John is commemorated several times during the year: on June 24th (the Nativity of John the Baptist), August 29th (the Beheading of John the Baptist), September 23rd (the Conception of John the Baptist), January 7th (the Feast of John the Baptist), February 24th and May 25th (the Recovery of the Head of John the Baptist).

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