Beheading of John the Baptist (1508) by Albrecht Altdorfer

Beheading of John the Baptist - Albrecht Altdorfer - 1508

Artwork Information

TitleBeheading of John the Baptist
ArtistAlbrecht Altdorfer
Date1508
Dimensions31 x 24 cm
Art MovementNorthern Renaissance
Current LocationKunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria
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About Beheading of John the Baptist

The artwork “Beheading of John the Baptist” by Albrecht Altdorfer, created in 1508, is an exemplar of the Northern Renaissance art movement. It measures 31 cm by 24 cm and is categorized as a religious painting. The artwork is currently housed in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria.

The artwork portrays a moment from a biblical narrative, where John the Baptist is about to be beheaded. In the foreground, a powerful, armor-clad executioner with a drawn sword stands poised to strike beside the kneeling figure of John the Baptist. The executioner’s posture exudes an air of grim determination, matching the solemnity and gravity of the scene. Beside them stand three women, two of whom are presumed to be Herodias and her daughter Salome, who, according to the biblical account, requested John’s head on a platter. The figures are painted with minute attention to detail, characteristic of the Northern Renaissance style – from the rich fabrics of the garments to the individual features on their faces.

The execution scene takes place within an architectural setting that opens to a verdant landscape, blending elements of both nature and human construction—a dichotomy that is reflective of the Renaissance’s blending of the material and spiritual realms. The palm tree at the side may symbolize martyrdom. The background exhibits a transition from the darker tones of the architectural elements to the verdant and lighter tones of the natural landscape, leading to a city in the distance. The atmosphere created by Altdorfer is one of tense anticipation, imbued with the stillness preceding a moment of irrevocable action, a pause that heightens the emotional impact of the narrative depicted.

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