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Head of John the Baptist on a Dish: M.2-2004

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Object information

Current Location: Gallery 32 (Rothschild)


Head of John the Baptist on a Dish


Production: Unknown




Relief of the head of John the Baptist on a dish, alabaster, carved in high relief,with remnants of painting in red, brown, and black, and gilding

Alabaster, carved in high relief, painted in red, brown, and black, and gilded. Rectangular. Two angels kneeling on the bottom edge, hold up a circular dish bearing St John the Baptist's head in a vertical position. He has a long ringlet on each side of his face, and a beard divided into six ringlets, two small on either side of two large. He looks downwards, drawing his eyebrows together in a slight frown, and has a long straight nose, and a half open mouth with six prominent teeth. His lips are reddened and his hair and beard are gilded. The inner and outer edges of the rim of the dish are banded in red. The angels have gilded hair, remnants of gilding on their collars, and gold wings with black tear-shaped spots. The triangular areas on each side of the dish at the top are painted red, and the area below the dish is black. The reverse has three holes, one of which has remains of wire for suspension, possibly of latten, and one later suspension ring cemented in near the top


History note: Munich, Hampel Kunstauktionen München, 19-20 September, 2004, Katalog der grossen Herbst-Auktion 2003, lot 1950 (hammer price 17.500 Euros plus 23% commission and VAT); Albrecht Neuhaus, a Würzberg-based dealer from whom purchased by the vendor, Daniel Katz Ltd., 13 Old Bond Street, London, W15 4SX, from whom purchased

Legal notes

Purchased with the Boscawen Fund, and with grants from the National Art Collections Fund, and the MLA/Victoria and Alber Museum Purchased Frant Fund

Measurements and weight

Height: 29 cm
Width: 23.5 cm

Relative size of this object

23.5 cm29 cm What does this represent?

Relative size of this object is displayed using code inspired by Good Form and Spectacle's work on the British Museum's Waddeson Bequest website and their dimension drawer. They chose a tennis ball to represent a universally sized object, from which you could envisage the size of an object.

Place(s) associated

  • Nottingham ⪼ Nottinghamshire ⪼ England

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Bought (2004-04-06) by Daniel Katz Ltd


15th century
Circa 1450 CE - Circa 1500 CE


Heads of St John the Baptist was a speciality of late fifteenth Nottingham alabaster carvers, and there is documentary evidence for their manufacture there. The saint's head is frequently shown on a dish supported by angels, sometimes with the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) an attribute of St John, or Christ as Man of Sorrows below the dish. On other examples the head may surrounded by a group of saints, or have seated figures of saints below, and God the Father above. The panels were sold singly to provide a focus for the private devotions of their owners, and were sometimes housed in a wooden case, with painted doors which were opened while the owner was at prayer. Apart from the importance of St John as a witness of Christ’s divinity, the popularity of this subject reflected the strongly penitential aspect of late Medieval religion, and the piety of the laity, who were encouraged to relive the sufferings of Christ and the Saints while contemplating their images.

School or Style


People, subjects and objects depicted


  • Sculpture UK

Components of the work

Decoration composed of paint ( red, brown, and black) gold
Front Surface

Materials used in production


Techniques used in production

Carving : Alabaster carved in high relief, with remnants of painting in red, brown, and black, and gilding

References and bibliographic entries

Identification numbers

Accession number: M.2-2004
Primary reference Number: 98848
External ID: CAM_CCF_M_2_2004
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Wednesday 8 March 2023 Last processed: Wednesday 8 March 2023

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Applied Arts

Citation for print

This record can be cited in the Harvard Bibliographic style using the text below:

The Fitzwilliam Museum (2023) "Head of John the Baptist on a Dish" Web page available at: Accessed: 2023-06-07 01:24:51

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{{cite web|url= |title=Head of John the Baptist on a Dish |author=The Fitzwilliam Museum|accessdate=2023-06-07 01:24:51|publisher=The University of Cambridge}}

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