Today's Gospel in Art - The Birthday of St John the Baptist

  • Patrick van der Vorst

Birth of St John the Baptist, by Domenico Ghirlandaio,  © Tornabuoni Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Birth of St John the Baptist, by Domenico Ghirlandaio, © Tornabuoni Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Gospel of 24th June 2020 - Luke 1:57-66,80

The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had shown her so great a kindness, they shared her joy.

Now on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up.

'No,' she said 'he is to be called John.' They said to her, 'But no one in your family has that name', and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called. The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, 'His name is John.' And they were all astonished. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. 'What will this child turn out to be?' they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.

Meanwhile the child grew up and his spirit matured. And he lived out in the wilderness until the day he appeared openly to Israel.

Reflection on the Fresco

The birth of John the Baptist which we celebrate today, comes three months after the celebration on March 25th of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel told Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy, and it is also six months before the Christmas celebration of the birth of Jesus.

In our fresco painting by Domenico Ghirlandaio at the Tornabuoni Chapel in Florence, we see Elisabeth sitting upright on the bed in a calm and graceful posture, with a book in her left hand. A nurse in the background is attending to her, painted with vibrant colours to attract the watcher's attention. We see three women in the foreground who are visiting Elizabeth. All three are members of the Tornabuoni family who commissioned the painting. The attention to domestic detail is beautiful: for example the two bottles of wine and water held by the maid (referring to the Eucharist), the bed-frame with an empty vase (symbolic of the now empty womb of Elisabeth) flanked by two pomegranates (symbolic of fertility and abundance) over the bed, etc...

Luke in his Gospel writes that the 'the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea'… He stresses one of the main features of being Christian: to spread the Good News. The birth of the long-awaited child to older parents is an occasion of great joy… the unexpected has happened… the scene is set for Jesus' arrival...

LINKS

Today's story - https://christianart.today/reading.php?id=462

Christian Art Today - www.christian.art


Tags: Christian Art Today, Patrick van der Vorst, Domenico Ghirlandaio

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