John the Baptist at prayer

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Gemälde „Johannes der Täufer beim Gebet“ von Juan van der Hamen y León

John the Baptist at prayer
Juan van der Hamen y León, 1620-1622
184 cm × 143.5 cm
Oil on canvas
Private collection, Madrid

John the Baptist at Prayer is a painting by the Spanish painter Juan van der Hamen y León, painted around 1620-1622. The 184 cm × 143.5 cm oil on canvas painting is a depiction of John the Baptist. It is an early history painting by Juan van der Hamen and is now in a private collection in Madrid.

Image description

The painting shows John the Baptist kneeling in the centre of the picture so that one knee touches the ground while the other leg is bent in a crouching position. He wears a red cloak, his limbs modelled by the light. His arms are outstretched, his hands joined in prayer. His head, over which a halo is discernible, is raised, John’s gaze is directed upwards. To John’s left is a sheep, standing out white against the dark, rocky background, gazing up at the saint. Behind John’s head and back, the landscape opens into the distance and a river and hill can be seen.


John the Baptist at Prayer shares many similarities with van der Hamen’s painting San Isidro, which must have been painted around the same time. Thus, this painting was one of van der Hamen’s earliest known works. On the other hand, it has little in common with his later history paintings. The painting shows the San Isidro van der Hamen’s skill at anatomical drawing, which was a testament to his training. John the Baptist at Prayer is characterized by a strong naturalism. The strong light plays on the saint’s sculpted body and the sheep’s hide, making these forms stand out from the surrounding landscape. Despite this strong modelling by light and shadow, Juan van der Hamen y León used a black line on the left arm in order to emphasise its shape even more. He did the same with San Isidro’s legs. Later, van der Hamen took up the theme of John the Baptist again for his works in the Convento de la Encarnación.[1]

The provenance of the painting is unknown. On 30 May 2000, John the Baptist at Prayer was up for auction at Finarte in Madrid, but was not successful.[2]


  • William B. Jordan: Juan van der Hamen y León & The Court of Madrid. Yale University Press, New Haven 2005. ISBN 0-300-11318-8.

Individual references

  1. Jordan, p. 65.
  2. Jordan, p. 313.