Initial D: Saint John the Baptist
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Attributed to Cosmè Tura
Italian, Ferrara, about 1470 - 1480
Tempera colors, gold leaf, and gold paint on parchment
13 3/4 x 11 3/4 in.

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The isolated figure of John the Baptist is set against a harsh, minimal landscape. He points up toward heaven with a brittle finger and looks down reflectively toward the inhospitable earth. The Latin words on his winding scroll, taken from the Bible, explain the barren setting, Ego vox clamantis [in deserto] (I am the voice crying aloud in the wilderness).

The cutting comes from a Franciscan gradual (the choir book containing the sung portions of the mass) illuminated by the important fifteenth-century Italian artist, Cosmè Tura, official court artist to the prominent Este family of Ferrara. Tura imbues the scene with a sense of palpable melancholy, not only through the sensitively rendered face of Saint John, but also through the stark landscape and muted colors of the miniature.