The Birth of Saint John the Baptist,
Painted by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593- 1656),
Painted between 1633 and 1635,
Oil on canvas
© Prado Museum, Madrid

The Birth of Saint John the Baptist,
Painted by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593- 1656),
Painted between 1633 and 1635,
Oil on canvas
© Prado Museum, Madrid

Gospel of 23 June 2022

The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Luke 1:57-66,80

The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had shown her so great a kindness, they shared her joy.

Now on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up. ‘No,’ she said ‘he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘But no one in your family has that name’, and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called. The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they were all astonished. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.

Meanwhile the child grew up and his spirit matured. And he lived out in the wilderness until the day he appeared openly to Israel.

Reflection on the painting

Today we celebrate the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. Our painting is by Artemisia Gentileschi. Initially working in the Caravagesque manner (still evident in our painting), she was producing professional work by the age of fifteen. This happened during an era when women had few opportunities to pursue artistic careers. Gentileschi was the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence and she quickly built an international clientele.


Many of Gentileschi's paintings feature women from myths, allegories, and biblical stories. Here too, whilst baby Saint John is at the centre of the subject, four women surround him. The painting depicts today’s Gospel reading in which Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, are too old to have children. One day the angel Gabriel appears to tell Zacharias that he and Elizabeth will have a son who is to be named John. Zacharias is literally dumbfounded and loses his ability to speak. Later, the baby is born and all the couple's neighbours and relations insist that the baby should be named Zacharias, after his father. Elizabeth disagrees, so they ask for Zacharias's opinion. He writes on a tablet (to the left of our painting) “His name is John” and regains his ability to speak. Thus Saint John the Baptist begins his miraculous life…

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Patricia O'Brien
Patricia O'Brien(@marispiper)
5 months ago

I saw her exhibition at the NG. She’s a rare talent, for sure. I just wonder which of these ladies is ‘sposed to be Elizabeth?
I like this gospel – it has all the hallmarks of a true story. The Baptist – we owe him a lot.

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