Saint John the Baptist, the son of the high priest Zacharias and the aged Elizabeth (Luke I, 57–64), was the first great Christian preacher. He lived an ascetic life in the desert (Luke I, 80), foretelling the coming of Christ, whom he baptised (Luke III, 1–17 and Matthew III, 5–6). Later he was imprisoned by Herod Antipas, and executed following Herod’s rash promise to his step-daughter, Salome (Mark VI, 21–28). Reynolds unusually chose to represent the preaching saint as a child, aiming to invest his figure with something of the sentimental potential of innocence and the passion of youth. Reynolds also attempted to emulate the Old Masters in his experimental painting technique, which has led to the picture darkening, and deterioration in the paint surface.
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The Wallace Collection
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