© Foto: Gemäldegalerie der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz. Fotograf/in: Jörg P. Anders (CC BY-NC-SA)

John the Baptist in the Wilderness

Geertgen tot Sint Jans, ca. 1480 — 1490
Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin

John the Baptist is so absorbed in thought that he is oblivious to the appealing landscape surrounding him. He does not even seem to notice that he is rubbing his feet against each other. Geertgen tot Sint Jans made the painting around 1490, probably for one of the monks from the Haarlem Commandery of St John, where he lived as well. He is one of the first painters in Holland about whom we know anything at all. The painting tells us about the beginnings of Dutch painting, about the early love for landscape, and about the importance of private devotion in the late Middle Ages. Even more important than this art-historical consideration is the timeless, melancholy atmosphere it projects. In a way, this is as poetic as it is crystal clear: it shows how, despite an environment closely resembling paradise, someone can be overcome by elusive sorrow.

Friso Lammertse, Curator of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Painting, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

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