GEERTGEN tot Sint Jans
(b. 1460/65, Leiden, d. 1490, Haarlem)

John the Baptist in the Wilderness

Panel, 42 x 28 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

With Geertgen tot Sint Jans Netherlandish painting ventures into the deep waters of a mysticism and fantasy which are nearer to those of the German painters. The secular spirit seems to be beginning to take the stage: we are entering into a different kind of expression, in which man's own thought, his inventions and his dreams will impregnate his life and his surroundings.

A good example is the St John in the Wilderness. With his cheek resting on one hand, the saint sits dreaming, thinking, meditating in the loveliest, most subtle, most tenderly green of landscapes, as the sun sets amid the flutter of wings, the piping of birds and the gentle ripping of the brook to which a stag has come down to drink. Behind St John the lamb is seen sitting, waiting for the prophecy to be accomplished and for the Lamb of God to came to him for Baptism. This link the picture with Van Eyck's Mystic Lamb - but in reverse order, so to speak, since here the scenes do not take place in their historical and chronological sequence. But with the great things there is no such thing as history.