Head of St. John the Baptist
Anonymous Neapolitan (circle of Massimo Stanzione, 1585-1656)
17th century, Oil on canvas
In terms of the quality of the rendering, this work can be attributed to the school of the magnificent art of Massimo Stanzione, a key figure of Neapolitan painting in the early 17th century, and is considered to be evidence of a talented and sophisticated, but still unidentified painter. The dramatic composition, in which the saint's severed head is presented in an almost three-quarter view, with its mouth half-closed and reflected in the sheen of the silvery tray, indicates the work of a very imaginative artist, who was able to capture the depth and concreteness of flesh and hair with his excellent pictorial rendering. The reed cross in the foreground, with a scroll bearing an inscription from the Gospel, is painted in a style that closely resembles that of Caravaggio, a testament to the excellence of the unknown painter, who was able to inspire piety in the viewer in the rendering of the closed eyes, without resorting to the more brutal depictions found in many works from the same period.