English narrative alabaster reliefs depicting the public life and martyrdom of John the Baptist are a fascinating yet understudied corpus. The starting point of this essay and its place of return is a series of three fifteenth-century panels depicting Saint John the Baptist Before Herod Antipas, The Burial of Saint John the Baptist, and The Burning of Saint John the Baptist’s Bones and the Scattering of his Ashes. Once possibly part of an altarpiece made for export, the reliefs are now in The Victoria and Albert Museum. Drawing on a broad range of literary, liturgical, homiletic, folkloric, and artistic sources, the essay examines the multifaceted nature of late medieval devotion to John the Baptist, focusing in particular on the saint’s connection to women, fertility, and healing, and on the festal, celebratory dimensions of his cult. The essay concludes by offering a reading of the V&A reliefs in light of the popular beliefs and customs that would have informed the English alabaster carvers’ lived experience and speculates on the roles of lived experience and memory in the creation and reception of images.
Smith, Kathryn A.
"“A Lanterne of Lyght to the People”: English Narrative Alabaster Images of John the Baptist in Their Visual, Religious, and Social Contexts,"
Studies in Iconography: Vol. 42, Article 4.
Available at: https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/studies_in_iconography/vol42/iss1/4