Saint John the Baptist, believed to be the precursor and cousin of Christ, emerged after many years of self-teaching in the desert to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah, as prophesied in the Old Testament. He led an ascetic life, like the Old Testament prophets, and spent years preaching the importance of penitence, baptizing the faithful in the Jordan River. John’s work culminated in his baptism of Jesus. Soon afterward, John was imprisoned for angering Herod Antipas, the Judean ruler, by denouncing him for marrying Herodias, the wife of his half-brother Herod. At the request of Salome, daughter of Herodias and Herod, St. John was decapitated.
This beautiful Byzantine bronze medallion is decorated with an incised image of John the Baptist. His hands are held in front of his chest; his right hand grasps a scroll while his left forms a gesture of blessing. He features the long, curly hair and full beard that is consistent with his typical depiction as an ascetic withdrawn from civilization. A halo, defined by two concentric circles, reveals his saintly nature. Greek letters inscribed on either side of him confirm his identity. “IW O A PR” are an abbreviation for, “Ioanos O Agios Prodromos,” or, “John the Holy Forerunner.” This inscription further defines John as the precursor of Christ. A medallion such as this one would have probably been the prized possession of a faithful, yet affluent, individual during the latter days of the Byzantine Empire who sought to invoke god’s divine favor by carrying this work. Today, it remains a testament to an age of great piety and religious fervor during which some of the most striking works of art in the Christian tradition were produced. - (X.0090)