Saint John the Baptist
Mechelen School (Belgium), ca. 1500
Carved Wood with traces of Polychromy
Height: 29.5 cm
Carved sculpture of walnut wood depicting Saint John the Baptist carrying a book and lamb, which identify him as the harbinger of the coming of Christ, the Lamb of God.
His smooth and slightly curved forehead, slanted eyes and small mouth are typical characteristics of Netherlands sculpture, particularly from the city of Mechelen. This piece is carved according to the standards of dynamism in Gothic sculpture, with St. John posed in the famous Contrapposto stance, where one leg is moved forward and used to support the weight of the body, producing a curve in the opposite hip where he supporting the book and lamb. By employing this technique, the sculpture created an extraordinary and naturalistic effect of fabric in motion.
This piece can be said to belong to the class of sculpture known as "Poupées de Malines" – Dolls of Mechelen – or "Chuletas de Malinas," which were small statues of the Virgin, Saints, and Christ Child that were produced in large quantities from around 1450 until 1515-1530. The widespread dissemination of these was directly tied to their small scale, which perfectly met the needs of private and domestic devotion. The quality of the carving, along with the rich polychromy, and sweet and gentle facial expressions enhanced their popularity. It is known that the "Poupées de Malines" were among the Flemish good that where exported to the Iberian Peninsula and even more distant lands, such as the Canary Islands, the Americas, and the Philippines.