(b. ca. 1441, Firenze, d. 1493, Firenze)

St John the Baptist (detail)

about 1485
Tempera on canvas, 157 x 79,5 cm
Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest

With his grieving, almost beseeching facial expression, his pose half-turned to the spectator, and his rather vague pointing gesture, Sellaio's St John suggests a tragic pathos which is different from the purely intellectual passion, the mystic meditation that seems to permeate the similar figure by Botticelli. In fact the two St Johns assume a different significance in each picture: the figure of Botticelli makes a move toward the Madonna holding her Child who raises his hand in blessing - as if acting as an intermediary between the Virgin and the spectator. Here, on the other hand, he points toward a desiccated tree trunk with the sinister prophecy: "For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees." These ominous words reflect the apocalyptic mood of Florence of the last decade of the 15th century, the premonition of the downfall of the Medicis and the approaching war, which also provided the keynote for Savonarola's preaching.