Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi) (Milan 1571 – Porto Ercole 1610)
Saint John the Baptist
Oil on canvas
94 x 131 cm
The authorship of this painting has long been debated, although there exist other versions of the same subject painted by Caravaggio in a fairly similar style. A young Saint John the Baptist is depicted smooth-cheeked, semi-naked, with a red cloak and a cross-shaped stick placed by his side, but devoid of the traditional camel skin, which appears in other versions. Caravaggio depicts a moment of repose during John’s life of penitence in the desert, but in contrast to traditional iconography, the attributes of the Saint are almost marginalized: the bowl from which John pours the water at the Baptism of Jesus appears stripped of its sacral role, while the cross is barely visible, concealed by the edge of the painting. Here Caravaggio gives new significance to the representation of the young Baptist in the desert, conferring greater immediacy on a theme that has often lent itself to interpretations blending the sacred and profane.