VITTORIA, Alessandro
(b. 1525, Trento, d. 1608, Venezia

St John the Baptist

Marble, height 60 cm
San Zaccaria, Venice

Vittoria's earliest known sculpture, the marble statuette of St John the Baptist dates from 1543. It was originally commissioned by the monks of San Geremia, Venice, but payment was never fully made, and Vittoria bought it back in 1565. It remained in his possession until he died, and his final will of 1608 included 'my little St John' as a bequest to the nuns of San Zaccaria. It was transferred there shortly after his death, together with an autograph terracotta statuette of Zacharias. He asked in his will that the pair be placed on either side of the Altar of St Zacharias. It remains unclear whether the nuns ever placed either statuette on the Altar of St Zacharias, nor is it yet known at what date they were placed on the holy-water stoups (the Baptist on the right-hand stoop, Zacharias on the left-hand stoop). Sadly, today, one is not able to see the Baptist, as he is shrouded in cloth, after an act of vandalism resulted in his right arm being snapped off.

The St John occupies a key position in Vittoria's career. The figure is conceived within a closed silhouette and steps slightly forward in the act of baptism. The skin is stretched taut over the gaunt body, so that each bone and muscle protrudes. As in later works, the drapery patterns are clear and simple; the particularized features of the face foreshadow Vittoria's calling as a portraitist.

The exploration of a highly emotional state of being - in this case of the saint's asceticism - remained a constant feature of Vittoria's artistic approach, as did his preference for small-scale figures: in an age dominated by Michelangelesque gigantism, Vittoria's most personal creations tended to be statuettes and under life-size figures.