BOSCH, Hieronymus
(b. ca. 1450, 's-Hertogenbosch, d. 1516, 's-Hertogenbosch)

St John the Baptist in the Wilderness

Oil on panel, 48 x 40 cm
Museo Lázaro Galdiano, Madrid

In this picture Bosch shows St John the Baptist seated in a humid summer landscape. The composition may well have been influenced by a painting done some years earlier by Geertgen tot Sint Jans. Geertgen represented the thoughtful prophet staring abstractedly into space, rubbing one foot against the other, but Bosch shows him pointing purposefully towards the Lamb of God crouching at lower right. This gesture traditionally identifies John as the forerunner of Christ, the 'precursor Christi'. In this instance however, it also indicates a spiritual alternative to the life of the flesh symbolized in the great pulpy fruits hanging near him on gracefully curving stems, and in the equally ominous forms rising in the background.