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A man holding a quill and a woman holding a quill and miniature tower stand in front of a low wall

This painting is divided into two sections by arches, framing two figures. On the left is a medium-skinned man with long brown hair and a beard wearing gray animal-skin robes. The man faces us with his right index finger pointing toward the right. His left hand holds a scroll with large black script. He stands on a red triangle-patterned floor. In the right arch is a light-skinned woman in a high-collared red dress. She holds a large quill in her left hand and a pink miniature tower in her right. The figures are backed by a low green wall.

Gallery Text

Borrassà was the leader of one of the most successful painting workshops in Catalonia. The two figures in this fragment were probably part of the banco (base) of a larger altarpiece dedicated to Saint Peter. The upper panels of the altarpiece would have depicted stories from Peter’s life and death, and his martyrdom was visually supported by the lower saints from our fragment, who had also died for their devotion. On the left, we see Saint John: his camel pelt marks him out as a prophet who lived in the wilderness, removed from society. He holds a scroll reading “Ecce agnus Dei qui tollit,” or “Look, this is the lamb of God who takes away [the sins of the world].” In the original banco, Saint John would have been pointing toward another panel depicting the crucified Christ (the “lamb of God”). Saint Barbara, dressed in splendid robes, holds a palm frond, a sign of her martyrdom, and also a tower with three windows, symbolizing the Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, a concept central to the Christian faith.

Below the Surface

The brightest features of this panel painting’s X-radiograph reveal elements of its construction. Denser materials block X-rays more effectively, leaving a brighter imprint on the radiograph. The three vertical white bands running the length of the painting are wooden battens that hold the two horizontal planks together. The large hand-forged iron nails seen at the edges affix the framing elements to the panel. Coarse fabric was glued over all these joins, and the weave pattern can be faintly detected.

Despite the battens, a large open crack runs across the entire panel at the join between the two planks of wood. This fracture bears a remarkable resemblance to a crack in a corresponding panel, "Saint Catherine and Christ," from an altarpiece now in the National Art Museum of Catalonia, in Barcelona, Spain. When the radiograph of the Harvard painting was compared to that of the panel in Barcelona, their respective cracks and grain direction aligned perfectly, confirming that the two works not only belonged to the same altarpiece, but were also constructed from related pieces of wood.

[image of x-radiograph]

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Lluís Borrassà, Spanish (1388 - 1424)
Saint John the Baptist and Saint Barbara
Work Type
c. 1411-1413
Creation Place: Europe, Spain, Catalonia
Spanish, Catalonian
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2440, Medieval Art
View this object's location on our interactive map

Physical Descriptions

Tempera on panel
87.4 x 89.8 x 8.2 cm (34 7/16 x 35 3/8 x 3 1/4 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: On scroll held by Saint John: Ecce Agno Dei qui tollit


Recorded Ownership History
Private Collection, Barcelona, sold; to Fogg Art Museum, 1933.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Alpheus Hyatt Purchasing Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Publication History

  • "A Panel by Borassá", Harvard Alumni Bulletin (November 17, 1933), pp. 219-221, pp. 219-221, repr. p. 219
  • Janet Congdon, "Some Important Museum Acquisitions", Parnassus (February 1934), vol. VI, no. II, pp. 18-19, p. 18; repr. p. 19
  • Frederick Randolph Grace, "St. John the Baptist and St. Barbara by Luis Borrassa", Bulletin of the Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, March 1934), Vol. III, No. 2, pp. 11-14, pp. 11-14, repr. p. 12 as fig. 1
  • [no title], The Art News (May 26, 1934), p. 16
  • Juan Antonio Gaya-Nuño, La Pintura Española Fuera de España, Espasa-Calpe (Madrid, Spain, 1958), p. 118, cat. no. 411
  • Josep Gudiol, Pintura Gótica Catalana, Ediciones Poligrafa, S.A. (Barcelona, 1986), pp. 83, 337, repr. p. 87 as no. 382
  • Edgar Peters Bowron, European Paintings Before 1900 in the Fogg Art Museum: A Summary Catalogue including Paintings in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), pp. 99, 367, repr. b/w cat. no. 804
  • L'Art Gòtic a Catalunya, Enciclopèdia Catalana (Barcelona, 2005), Vol. II, pp. 68-69, repr. p. 69
  • Antonio José Pitarch, Maestros de Alta Época, Galeria Bernat (Barcelona, 2008), p. 24
  • Anna Lin-Schweitzer, "Preserving the Passage of Time", Index Magazine, Harvard Art Museums ([e-journal], October 27, 2017),
  • Sophie Lynford and Kate Smith, "Introducing the Art + Science Pathway", Index Magazine, Harvard Art Museums (May 27, 2022),, accessed July 22, 2022

Exhibition History

  • 32Q: 2440 Medieval, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/12/2017 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • ReFrame

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Verification Level

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