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This marble sculpture was produced by Auguste Rodin in 1887, and portrays the head of the key religious figure of Saint John the Baptist. It is one of a number of religious based works from this influential French sculptor who also made use of mythological content in other pieces.
This sculptor would produce a number of items based on Saint John the Baptist, with this particular iteration focusing purely on his head. This piece is sized at 23.9 cm × 39 cm × 31.1 cm which is just about large enough for Rodin to sculpt some beautiful details of this figure's facial features. His overall series of works which took this theme in different directions was generally well regarded and the sculptor found that making use of more traditional themes seemed to work better with those judging his work, even if the actual technical work was much the same. He learnt how to please those judging his work though was fiercely independent throughout his lifetime and also quite sensitive to criticism in the earlier periods of his career. Later on he became successful and so achieved a much higher level of confidence in what he was doing. Our Rodin biography discussed his career progression in greater detail.
The base on which the head is placed is styled as if a font for baptising. It was unusual to just include the head, as normally sculptors would feature the bust format, or offer a fuller length figure. Rodin may have been looking to achieve a bigger impact, emotionally, by working in this way. The honest, detailed depiction of a head alone also brings a personal, human element to the work. The head was, in all fairness, originally part of a larger composition but criticism received would force him to seperate it into different elements which he probably did not intend to do initially.
This item is now located within the collection of the Museo Soumaya in Mexico City, Mexico. You will find here an excellent collection of moulds and sculptures from Rodin's career and it provides a fantastic introduction to his career for those fortunate enough to spend some time visiting this excellent art venue. Those with broader tastes will also be able to find some of the finest local Mexican artists here as well, including the wonderful muralist Diego Rivera, who was also the husband of respected Surrealist painter, Frida Kahlo. Additionally, there are other European painters to be found here as well, some of whom have a Latin connection themselves, such as Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso, though their collection continues to be refreshed and updated regularly meaning it is worth making repeat visits every few years if you are able to do so.