Manuscript Illumination with Scenes from the Life of Saint John the Baptist

Artist: Master of James IV of Scotland (probably Gerard Horenbout) (South Netherlandish, active ca. 1485–1530)

Date: ca. 1515

Geography: Made in Bruges, Netherlands

Culture: South Netherlandish

Medium: Tempera, ink, and shell gold on parchment

Dimensions: 6 1/2 x 4 5/8in. (16.5 x 11.7cm)
Mat: 14 × 11 in. (35.6 × 27.9 cm)

Classification: Manuscripts and Illuminations

Credit Line: Bequest of George D. Pratt, 1935

Accession Number: 48.149.16


This striking miniature is one a pair of leaves of identical size that were probably detached from an early sixteenth-century book of hours. In addition to its subtle modeling and color, the image is distinguished by a sophisticated spatial design, through which the main section of the miniature appears to be superimposed upon the background that unfolds in a continuous landscape below and on either side of the image.

The principal scene of this illumination features the iconic figure of Saint John the Baptist seated in a landscape, pointing to an open book in his lap and accompanied by the lamb to which he gestures at his left. Episodes from his life are illustrated along the margins of the page-counterclockwise from the upper left: the baptism of Christ, the Baptist preaching, his imprisonment, the executioner placing the Baptist's head on a platter, Herod's feast, and the burning of the Baptist's bones. The technique, color scheme, and use of space are similar to those found in works attributed to the Master of James IV of Scotland, whose name derives from a miniature depicting the ruler in an early sixteenth-century prayer book housed in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna (Cod. 1897). Identified by some with the Netherlandish painter and illuminator Gerard Horenbout, this artist was especially adept at manipulating and expanding the illusionistic effects of manuscript illumination. Several of his recorded manuscripts were commissioned by Northern European courts, where images of such complex visual conceit would have been particularly appreciated.