The Beheading of John the Baptist by Carel Fabritius

The Beheading of John the Baptist - Carel Fabritius - 1648-50

Artwork Information

TitleThe Beheading of John the Baptist
ArtistCarel Fabritius
Date1648-50
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions149 x 121 cm
Current LocationRijksmuseum, Amsterdam
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About The Beheading of John the Baptist

The artwork entitled “The Beheading of John the Baptist” is a masterful oil on canvas painting created by the artist Carel Fabritius between the years 1648 and 1650. This painting measures 149 by 121 centimeters and is part of the collection at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, where it is displayed for public viewing.

“The Beheading of John the Baptist” depicts a stark and emotive scene. The central figure is a man holding the severed head of John the Baptist, captured in a moment of grim triumph. His facial expression is composed, revealing a sense of duty or resignation to the act he has committed. With John’s head resting on a platter, it is a focal point of the artwork, rendered with a realistic and solemn visage, enhancing the painting’s dramatic impact.

Around the central figure are several onlookers, their reactions varying from apparent sorrow to detached curiosity. On the left side, an old woman peers forward, her face lined with concern or grief. Behind the executioner, additional figures can be observed, including men who seem to be discussing the event amongst themselves. A young woman, richly attired and highlighted by the use of light, stands to the right, gazing thoughtfully at John’s head. Her presence adds a layer of complexity to the scene, suggesting the varying societal roles and responses to such a brutal event.

The use of chiaroscuro (the contrast of light and shadow) in the painting is noteworthy, as it draws attention to the faces and the head, creating a somber and intense atmosphere that befits the gravity of the scene depicted. The background is dimly lit and understated, which allows the figures and the narrative of the beheading to command the viewer’s attention. Fabritius has masterfully captured the emotional weight of the biblical story through his expressive use of light, shadow, and character portrayal.

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