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The Sermon of St. John the Baptist

Bernardo Strozzi1642/1644

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Bernardo Strozzi received the epithet of “Il prete Genovese” (“the Genoese
priest”) when he fled to Venice in 1630. A member of the Capuchin monastery in Genoa, he had managed to be granted the privilege of leading a secular life in 1610. Now he sought to escape his duties as a clergyman for good. He succeeded because he was under papal protection and the more liberal city of Venice thus did not prosecute him. While still in Genoa, Strozzi had studied the works of the Genoa-based painters Simon Vouet and Orazio Gentileschi, who were influenced by Caravaggio. In Venice, at the beginning of his late period, Strozzi was increasingly influenced by the works of Rubens, van Dyck and Veronese. This was an eclectic process, but he nonetheless succeeded in developing his own style, which is characterised by rich and bright colours, dearly visible brush strokes, dramatic use of light and a specific emphasis on the body language of his characters. John the Baptist explains his mission to the priests and Levites sent from Jerusalem (John 1:19–28), who eagerly ask him about his task. St. John is seen standing in front of a small group of listeners. He is characterised by the camel skin draped over his slender body and the band in his left hand, marking with the word “ecce” the beginning of the traditional reference to the Lamb of God (“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”, John 1:29). With his carefully chosen, close-up compositional detail, Strozzi reveals only part of the scene to the viewer. None of the figures depicted in front of a landscape is fully visible. With the help of the “empty” centre, the beholder’s attention is fully drawn to the gestures and facial expressions of the participants in the scene. The clear differences in age allude to the fact that John the Baptist’s mission is directed at everyone and thus universally applicable. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery, Vienna 2010

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