The St John Altarpiece (sometimes the Triptych of the two Saints John or the Triptych of St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist) is a large oil-on-oak hinged-triptych altarpiece completed around 1479 by the Early Netherlandish master painter Hans Memling. It was commissioned in the mid-1470s in Bruges for the Old St. John's Hospital (Sint-Janshospitaal) during the building of a new apse. It is signed and dated 1479 on the original frame – its date of installation – and is today still at the hospital in the Memling museum.
The altarpiece consists of five paintings – a central inner panel and two double-sided wings. The panels on the reverse of wings are visible when the shutters are closed, and show the hospital donors flanked by their patron saints. The interior contains a central panel with the enthroned Virgin and Child flanked by saints; the left wing features episodes from the life of John the Baptist with emphasis on his beheading; the right wing shows the apocalypse as recorded by John the Evangelist, pictured writing on the island of Patmos.
St John Altarpiece is one of Memling's more ambitious works, and shares near-identical scenes with two of other his works: the Donne Triptych, in London's National Gallery, and the Virgin and Child with Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Barbara in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
The left wing depicts the beheading of St John the Baptist. His headless body lies in the left foreground and seems to reach out of the picture, as blood spurts from his severed neck, spraying his hands and the nearby plants. The foreground in the flora are reduced to the extent that they could not have been painted without a magnifying glass. The executioner stands with his back to the viewer, placing the freshly severed head on Salome's platter. The executioner, Salome, and three gesticulating bystanders form a circle around John's headless and lifeless body. According to Ridderbos, the five figures mirror and create a sense of unity with the five holy figures in the central panel. The scene is set in a courtyard in front of Herod's palace; the banquet that preceded the Baptist's decapitation can be seen in the left-midground of the palace, where minstrels play for Salome's dance. The scene is well-lit and with good architectural perspective. Albert Michiels described Salome as ravishing but emotionless; she receives the head, with her eyes held aloof. Other versions of St John's beheading (decollation) more typically showed Salome holding an empty plate for the executioner; with an early version typified in a miniature in the Petites Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry.