San Giovanni Battista (1604-1606)

Caravaggio (1571-1610)

San Giovanni Battista (Saint John the Baptist)
Oil on canvas, 94 x 131 cm
Galleria Corsini, Roma

The authenticity of this painting has long been doubted, although there are other versions of the same subject created by Caravaggio in a rather similar manner. We see a young Saint John the Baptist without a beard, half-naked and covered in a red cloak, with the cross-shaped staff resting at his side, but without the traditional camel fur that appears in other versions. Caravaggio depicts a moment of rest during John’s life of penance in the desert, but compared to traditional iconography the saint’s attributes are almost marginalized: the bowl with which John poured the water in the baptism of Jesus is as if deprived of its role sacral, while the cross is barely visible, hidden by the edge of the painting. In this way Caravaggio updated the representation of the young Baptist in the desert, giving greater immediacy to a theme that had often lent itself to interpretations in which the sacred and the profane are mixed. (Galleria Corsini)