The innovative subjects and powerful compositions of John Runciman's work made a major contribution to the development of Scottish painting. John and his older brother, Alexander, were accomplished painters and etchers, based in Edinburgh and then Rome. John died of consumption in Naples within a year of his arrival in Italy. It seems he had a difficult time there, and having become deeply troubled, destroyed many of his paintings. Unusually among his contemporaries, he looked to the works of Rubens and Dürer for inspiration, especially when interpreting themes from the New Testament and Shakespeare.