This is entry #10 in our ongoing 100 Philosophers, 100 Artworks, 100 Words Series.
Philosopher: Cynthia Freeland (University of Houston)
Artwork: Juan de Mesca, Head of Saint John the Baptist (ca. 1625). Seville Cathedral, Spain
Words: I’m fascinated by depictions of John the Baptist. The idea of beheading has haunted me ever since I read Tale of Two Cities. In Russian icons John stands serene, holding his own head on a platter. Spanish art, in contrast, revels in suffering and gore. Baroque sculptor Juan de Mesa sets this realistic, life-sized head on a silver platter, confronting us with cruelty and blood. I am gripped by the 3-D realism of this decapitated head, its severed muscles, esophagus, and other tubes revealed with grisly anatomical correctness.