Juan de Mesa_Master of Passion - Page 61

Saint John the Baptist
Gilded and polychromed wood
164 x 82 x 73 cm
x 32 9/32 x 28 47/64 in)
On loan to the Art Institute of Chicago
José Luis Romero Torres
This sculpture represents Saint John the Baptist standing, his left
hand holding a closed Bible with a symbolic lamb or Agnus Dei
seated upon it. Rather than pointing to the lamb, the saint’s other
hand is held elegantly in front of him as if in dialogue with the
believer. The saint is wearing the traditional brown camel’s hair
and a red mantle which winds around him loosely. The formal
characteristics of the image indicate the style of the sculptor Juan de
Mesa, as does the manner of carving the head. This is particularly
evident in the hair, eyes and beard, as well as in the voluminous
vertical pleats and the movement of the mantle. The modelling of
these elements produces a strong chiaroscuro, also typical of Mesa.
The Cordoban sculptor Juan de Mesa trained in the Sevillian
workshop of Juan Martínez Montañés, with the result that some
of Mesa’s early works reflect the classical and serene spirit of
Montañés. Mesa died relatively young – at the age of forty-four –
and his activity is documented in the 1610s and 1620s. In this short
time he was responsible for a large number of important sculptures
including the Crucified Christs long considered to be by Martínez
Montañés on account of their magnificent quality.
Mesa’s catalogue includes two other John the Baptists which
demonstrate the evolution in the short space of the artist’s career.
The serenity of Mesa’s Saint John the Baptist carved in 1623-1624
for the charterhouse of Nuestra Señora de las Cuevas in Seville,
now in the Museo de Bellas Artes (fig. 45), contrasts with the
earlier figure in the Dominican convent of Santa María la Real de
Bormujos (fig. 46). The sculpture of Saint John the Baptist presented
here is similar to the second type.


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