This domestic scene showing the Birth of John the Baptist is from the illuminated manuscript known as the Turin-Milan Hours. While there is some debate about the attribution to Jan Van Eyck for this folio, the consensus is that it is by Jan’s hand and painted between 1422 and 1425 during the period he was employed by John III of Bavaria.
Having previously demonstrated how the iconography in the Arnolfini Portrait points to the Turin Shroud, this domestic scene showing the Birth of John the Baptist sheds further light on Jan van Eyck’s fascination with the relic claimed by some to be the burial cloth of Jesus.
That the miniature has similarities to the Arnolfini Portrait has not gone unnoticed by art historians; the red bed, the woman in the green dress, the dog in the forefront, the pattens pointing to the edge of the frame, the beams supporting the ceiling, together suggest that Van Eyck sourced his earlier work and replicated some of its features in the Arnolfini Portrait. Seemingly, the Birth of John the Baptist served as a ‘precursor’ to the later painting dated by Van Eyck at 1434.
Beneath this representation of the biblical account of the Baptist’s birth (Luke 1 : 5-25, 57-79) is another narrative, one similarly found in the Arnolfini Portrait. In both paintings the setting corresponds to a chapel housing holy relics.
The chapel scene and contents in the Birth of John the Baptist represents the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, built in the 13th century by Louis IX to house the many holy relics (including the Shroud) ceded to him by Baudouin II of Constantinople.
Van Eyck also incorporates his interest in astronomy with references to celestial objects, and points to the heavenly light transmitted through passages from Scripture. Just as John the Baptist (Jan) was commissioned as a witness to speak for the light (John 1 : 8), so also is Jan van Eyck in his role as an artist and illuminator.
The Birth of John the Baptist is my next presentation at arnolfinimystery.com which I plan to post at the end of August. It will focus on the iconography in the scene representing some 20 holy relics from an inventory produced by Baudouin ll for Louis IX in 1247.