St. John the Baptist
Bartolomeo Bulgarini (Siena, before 1338-1378)
bottom S.JOHS.BTA; scroll: ECCE AGNUS DEI
John the Baptist, dressed in fur under a red cloak, bears a scroll announcing the coming of Christ (Jn. 1:29) and with his right hand points upward to the Saviour. The saint is characterised by his unkempt appearance, a beard and long shaggy hair, a reference to his ascetic life spent in the desert. In the panel below the figure of the Baptist, the apostle Paul is depicted holding the sword of martyrdom, his face characterised by a long dark beard and a receding hairline.
Alongside the panel featuring Saint Peter (inv. 1890 no. 6136), this panel was part of a now dismantled altarpiece of which other fragments are preserved in the Pinacoteca Nazionale Museum in Siena depicting the Madonna and Child Enthroned (inv. no. 76), St. Gregory the Great (inv. no. 59) and St. John the Evangelist, (inv. no. 75). It must have been a polyptych with at least five sections and a sort of predella at the bottom composed of the doctrine of half-length saints, finished with several cymatium at the top, which have been lost.
The polyptych likely stood above one of the altars in the Church of Santissima Annunziata in the Santa Maria della Scala hospital in Siena, a prestigious and powerful charitable organisation which the Sienese painter Bartolomeo Bulgarini entered as an oblate with his wife in 1366 where he spent his remaining years. Among the few Sienese masters to survive the 1348 plague, Bulgarini became a custodian of the artistic traditions of the first half of the century. His artwork maintains an archaising touch, drawing, even in his mature works, on models devised in the entourage of Duccio di Boninsegna and by Pietro Lorenzetti. The painter developed a progressive interest in ornamentation, which he accomplished by making use of refined artistic techniques he perfected in Simone Martini's workshop.