Domingo Ram
Zacharias at the Altar

Tempera and gold on wood
The Cloisters, New York City: Acquisition # 25.120.929.

Dressed as a priest of the Temple, Zacharias stands before the tabernacle. The angel returns his power of speech and he proclaims, iohannes est nomen eius – "John is his name." The locution is drawn from the episode of John's circumcision (Luke 59-64), but the encounter with the angel is from the episode in which the angel tells Zacharias that his wife will bear a son "great before the Lord" (Luke 8-22).

To a limited extent Zacharias's garments follow the prescriptions in Exodus 28: The embroidered ephod with edges joined at the sides (verses 5-7); the white "strait linen garment" beneath the ephod (4); the gold circles along the hem to represent the bells and pomegranates (33-34); and the gold plate on the mitre (36). In many other respects the artist either misreads or ignores Exodus. The mitre plate does not bear the words "Holy to the Lord" as it should, and there is no breastplate.

According to the museum label, the rope attached to the linen undergarment was used while the high priest performed his duties in the Holy of Holies: If he were to die, the priest outside could pull him out without himself entering.

Ram was an Aragonese painter, active 1464-1507.

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Photographed at The Cloisters by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.