John the Baptist,
Painted by Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889),
Painted in 1849,
Oil on canvas
© Musée Fabre, Montpellier, France
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand
In due course John the Baptist appeared; he preached in the wilderness of Judaea and this was his message: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ This was the man the prophet Isaiah spoke of when he said:
A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
This man John wore a garment made of camel-hair with a leather belt round his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judaea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. But when he saw a number of Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming? But if you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruit, and do not presume to tell yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father,” because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones. Even now the axe is laid to the roots of the trees, so that any tree which fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire. I baptise you in water for repentance, but the one who follows me is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to carry his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand; he will clear his threshing-floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’
Reflection on the painting
Our unusual painting depicting St John the Baptist is by Alexandre Cabanel, one of France’s most established 19th century painters. Cabanel painted this canvas after a trip to Rome. We can feel the highly stylised classical approach to painting. Saint John is painted as being a very energetic man, in the middle of preaching. Old and young followers are listening attentively on either side. On the left we see a staff shaped like a cross with a banner displaying the primary message of the prophet, ‘Agnus Dei’, the Lamb of God. He foretold and paved the way for Jesus, who is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Saint John’s mouth is slightly opened, we can almost hear his words. He is dressed with camel-hair and a leather belt round his waist as described in our Gospel reading. His arms are slightly over dramatised. One finger is pointing towards the heavens where Jesus is descending from; the other hand is pointing to earth, where Jesus will come into. When Cabanel completed this painting in 1849, it was very well received in Paris and had a deep impact on the art scene there.
Saint John tells us in our reading today to repent and sin no more. His message is very straightforward showing that St John was a no nonsense preacher and didn’t water down his message. There is not much time left, repent now! He is calling for real conversion. He doesn’t just want us to make some small adjustments or tweaks to our lives, no, John wants us to change the entire direction of our life. He called for a change of heart, for a radical transformation.
Advent is the time for transformation!
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Hoy tenemos demasiados explicadores de la Palabra y escasos imitadores de Ella al modo de Juan Bautista: concretamente falta que se nos diga “revisa tu vida, conviértete, anda al Sacramento de la Confesión, y entonces aliméntate con la Carne y la Sangre de Quien es la Palabra, para que vivas eternamente feliz”.
Sabe Dios pese a ello como cada persona por Él llamada le responde oportunamente para que no se pierda ninguna de las confiadas al Hijo !
I love this painting of St. John the Baptist. I can almost hear him saying “You brood of vipers!” to the Pharisees.
Que hermoso cuadro!
Siento que representa, en la figura de Juan, el lazo divino entre lo Antiguo y lo Nuevo:
– el Anciano a la derecha, símbolo de la Fe del pueblo “ del Dios de Abraham, el Dios de Isaac y el Dios de Jacob…”(Éxodo 3: 6)
– el joven sobre el que reposa el estandarte en forma de Cruz, con la leyenda: “ Agnus Dei”, testimonio que dió el Bautista al ver a Jesús: “ Al día siguiente, Juan vió acercarse a Jesús y dijo: Este es el Cordero de Dios, que quita el pecado del mundo”( Juan 1.29-30)
Los brazos de Juan, en su desproporción física, parecen hablarnos de la trascendencia teológica del acto que realizó: el Bautismo del Hijo de Dios. En el Jordan, Juan fue testigo privilegiado y directo de la presencia de la Santísima Trinidad.
Enfrente de la figura de Juan, que está de rodillas, vestido con harapos y también revestido con la fortaleza de los antiguos profetas, aparece un hombre con un manto rojo, que a mí se me hace que podría representar a Jesús, mirándolo sereno, conTernura y Compasión de Hermano, transmitiéndole templanza para transitar el martirio que Juan está pronto a vivir.
Juan y Jesús se conocieron desde el seno materno, ya que de acuerdo a Lucas 1:41”…Apenas esta oyó el saludo de María, el niño se estremeció de alegría en su seno…”- Este pasaje de la Biblia, siento que nos enseña tantas cosas!:por ej, que podemos sentir la presencia de Dios y estremecernos de alegría desde el seno materno, que toda Vida es sagrada e inviolable.
En este tiempo de Adviento, me conmueve ese lazo divino entre Juan y Jesús. Un bebé que en aún el seno de su madre, se estremece de alegría ante la presencia de Dios Hijo, también en el seno de su Santa Madre María.
Por eso creo que Juan, además de representar ese lazo sagrado entre la Fe del pueblo del Dios de Israel y la Fe en Cristo, nos enseña también esa conexión personal y sagrada de cada persona con Dios Hijo, … tan estremecedora que podemos sentirla en el seno de nuestra madre.
Paz y Bien!
Que hermosa interpretacion de este cuadro. Muchas Gracias. Paz y Bien.
Gracias, Andrew. Feliz Adviento!
That the people of Palestine flocked to hear this austere man who did not proclaim a feel-good message but urged repentance of sin makes me wonder if we moderns have become completely possessed by hubris. Lord, help me to repent of how I fail you.
I always feel that ‘voice’ of one crying in the wilderness is my conscience.
Such a powerful painting. You can almost smell that animal skin! John the Baptist is such an important Saint- I pair him with Our Lady in his dedication to the Word. He did only what he had been sent to do and bore the awful consequences of his mission. The truest and the greatest prophet indeed. We should pray for his powerful intercession in this dark and sinful world. Does anyone know any prayers associated with him?
You raised up St. John the Baptist
to prepare a perfect person for Christ.
We call upon St. John’s intercession
to properly prepare us with a true
sense of repentance to receive Your
grace and salvation.
Make us faithful to Truth and justice,
as You did Your servant,
John the Baptist, herald of Your Son’s
birth and death. Lord, may You increase
Your life within us.
Thank you Andrew- I shall say this often now. God bless.
Such drama! The sky is so beautiful and serene, the figure so powerful. He certainly didn’t mince his words. I would certainly sit up and take notice! Jesus and John were cousins maybe they knew each other through family gatherings or perhaps the Holy Spirit revealed it to John. Either way, I get the message repent! The Lord comes. Bless the name of the Lord.
Presumably a Salon painter who were the thing in the Belle Epoque and then overshadowed by the Impressionists. Strange how artists come in and out of favour!
He looks a bit like someone that you wouldn’t want sitting next to you on the tube!! On Wednesday I went to a concert featuring Bruckner’s ninth symphony which he dedicated to ‘My Dear God’. The woman next to me spent most of the time rummaging through her handbag. Is this appropriate behaviour during a concert? What can one say??
I once went to a concert where a woman took out her knitting. I sesne she had been persuaded to go against her better judgement and was making a quite protest!
Yes – people who don’t want to be there. Strange to pay out all that money. But we are wandering off the subject of St. John the Babtist!
That painting certainly conveys the man! I love the expressive hands.
We don’t know the story that preceded all this – the discourses between them – how John knew that Jesus was The Christ. Whatever the conversation, or revelation, his conviction is amazing.