|St. John the Baptist,
Prophet and Martyr
Most images of St. John the Baptist draw on scriptural rather than hagiographical sources: his surprising birth as recounted in Luke 1:5-25 (cached) and 57-66 (cached) and his beheading in Matthew 14:3-12 (cached) and Mark 6:17-29 (cached).
St. John the Baptist's portrait is found in a remarkable number of images of St. Catherine of Alexandria, either as an adult (example) or as a child bystander at St. Catherine's betrothal to the child Jesus (example). The child John the Baptist also figures in other Madonna and Child images, sometimes accompanied by adults such as his mother (example), and indeed even in solo portraits (example) and statues (example).
An important attribute that distinguishes St. John the Baptist in portraits is the lamb (example), often lying or standing on a book (example), referring to John's words regarding Jesus: "Behold the lamb of God" John 1:29 (cached). Another common attribute is a cross held like a military standard (example), sometimes with a banner attached (example). Portraits normally show St. John the Baptist clad in camel's skin as described in Matthew 3:4 (cached) and Mark 1:6 (cached). If Christ is also in the image, John will sometimes be shown pointing to him (example).
The lurid story of the Baptist's death is also a popular subject in the art, especially the dance of Salome (example) and the beheading (examples from 14th and 16th centuries). Even the severed head may be represented, as in this example from Mexico or this odd use of the head as an attribute.
June 24 (Birth of St. John the Baptist)
August 29 (Beheading of St. John the Baptist)
At left, "St. John the Baptist" panel from a van der Weyden Nativity
Among other saints:
In the Wilton Diptylch, 1395Incidental Images:
With St. Anthony of Padua in a 16th-century Crucifixion Triptych
Golden Legend #86 (Birth of St. John the Baptist): html or pdf
Golden Legend #125 (Beheading of St. John the Baptist) html or pdf