Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

Cynthia Freeland on “Head of Saint John the Baptist


Sculpture of decapitated head.
Same sculpture as above, but with a view of the wound on the neck.

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. 


  1. Even in death, his hair is perfect.

  2. You really need another view of it to appreciate what I was saying here. I hope this link works.!i=3473298062&k=v3SgtJR
    I took this picture at the museum of the Cathedral in Seville. It gives you a whole different feeling!

  3. Thanks for adding the 2nd picture, Christy.

  4. Sorry, Cynthia. To the best of my knowledge, the neck bone picture was in the original draft of the post. Not sure how it managed to disappear (heavenly ascension?). At least it has now returned in all its gory.

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