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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, (1571 – 1610)  (disputed)  John the Baptist (Reclining Baptist)  Oil on canvas, 	c. 1610  106 cm × 179.5 cm (42 in × 71 in)  Private collection, Munich, Germany
Goback 67 / 85 Forward

Title: John the Baptist
Description:

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, (1571 – 1610)
(disputed)
John the Baptist (Reclining Baptist)
Oil on canvas, c. 1610
106 cm × 179.5 cm (42 in × 71 in)
Private collection, Munich, Germany


John the Baptist (sometimes called John in the Wilderness) was the subject of at least eight paintings by the Italian Baroque artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610).

1 John the Baptist, Toledo
2 John the Baptist (Youth with a Ram), Musei Capitolini, Rome
3 John the Baptist (Youth with a Ram), Doria Pamphilj Gallery, Rome
4 John the Baptist, Kansas City
5 John the Baptist, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome
6 John the Baptist (St John the Baptist at the Fountain), Collezione Bonelli, Valletta
7 John the Baptist, Galleria Borghese, Rome
8 John the Baptist (St John the Baptist Reclining), Munich



The story of John the Baptist is told in the Gospels. John was the cousin of Jesus, and his calling was to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. He lived in the wilderness of Judea between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, "his raiment of camel's hair, and a leather girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey." He baptised Jesus in the Jordan, and was eventually killed by Herod Antipas when he called upon the king to reform his evil ways. John was frequently shown in Christian art, identifiable by his bowl, reed cross, camel's skin and lamb. The most popular scene prior to the Counter-Reformation was of John's baptism of Jesus, or else the infant Baptist together with the infant Jesus and Mary his mother, frequently supplemented by the Baptist's own mother St Elizabeth. John alone in the desert was less popular, but not unknown. For the young Caravaggio, John was invariably a boy or youth alone in the wilderness. This image was based on the statement in the Gospel of Luke that "the child grew and was strengthened in spirit, and was in the deserts until the day of his manifestation to Israel." These works allowed a religious treatment of the partly-clothed youths he liked to paint at this period - not all the models have a very saintly look.

Apart these works showing John alone, mostly dated to his early years, Caravaggio painted three great narrative scenes of John's death - the great ution in Malta, and two sombre Salomes with his head, one in Madrid, and one in London.


This Reclining John the Baptist, discovered in Argentina, remains disputed and should perhaps be described as attributed, but it is accepted by Peter Robb in his 1998 biography of Caravaggio. It is now in a private collection in Munich. The reasons for thinking it may be by Caravaggio, apart from the style and subject matter, are as follows: in July 1610, following news of Caravaggio's death, the bishop of Caserta wrote to Cardinal Scipione Borghese that three paintings by the artist were in the Naples palazzo of the Marchesa of Caravaggio. They were two Saint Johns and a Magdalene. The paintings had been intended for Borghese and he instructed the Marchesa to look after them for him. Unfortunately for Borghese they were seized two days later by the head of the Knights of Malta in Naples, on the grounds that Caravaggio was a knight of the Order and all his possessions devolved on the Knights - which all involved must have known to be untrue, as Caravaggio had been expelled from the Order in 1608. The newly-arrived Spanish Viceroy of Naples heard of the affair, but, believing the paintings were in Porto Ercole, wrote to the head of the Spanish garrison there telling him that the Knights had no right to them and that they should be returned to the Viceroy, "in particular the painting of John the Baptist." There is no certain knowledge of what happened to the various paintings after that point. Cardinal Borghese got the Youth with a Ram, but more than a year later. The other two paintings - the Magdalene and the second Baptist - disappeared, but it is possible, though unproven, that the Viceroy may have managed to secure the other Baptist. He would presumably have taken it back to Spain, and from there it could have made its way to South America. All this, however, is speculation - it needs to be pointed out that no-one knows the exact identity of the paintings involved.

Caravaggio never showed any of his figures in open daylight, but instead found a way to place them in the darkness of a closed room, putting a lamp high so that the light would fall straight down, revealing the principal part of the body and leaving the rest in shadow so as to produce a powerful contrast of light and dark. The painters in Rome were greatly taken by this novelty, and the young ones particularly gathered around him, praised him as the unique imitator of nature, and looked on his work as miracles.

Shadows, he felt, offered shelter as can four walls and a roof. Whatever and ver he painted he really painted interiors. Sometimes - for The Flight into Egypt or one of his beloved John the Baptists - he was obliged to include a landscape in the background. But these landscapes are like rugs or drapes hung up on a line across an inner courtyard. He only felt at home - no, that he felt no - he only felt relatively at ease inside. ... A body flares with light in an interior of darkness. The surroundings - the world outside the window - can be forgotten. Only the worst news can come from there. The desired body disclosed in the darkness - which is not a question of the time of day or night but of life as it is on this planet - the desired body, disclosed like an apparition, beckons beyond, not by provocative gesture but by the undisguised fact of its own sentience, promising the universe lying on the far side of that skin, calling you to leave.
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Goback 67 / 85 Forward
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, (1571 – 1610)  John the Baptist (John in the Wilderness)  Oil on canvas, 	c. 1598  169 cm × 112 cm (67 in × 44 in)  Museo Tesoro Catedralicio, Toledo, SpainMichelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, (1571 – 1610)  (disputed)  John the Baptist (Reclining Baptist)  Oil on canvas, 	c. 1610  106 cm × 179.5 cm (42 in × 71 in)  Private collection, Munich, GermanyMichelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, (1571 – 1610)  Basket of Fruit  Oil on canvas, c. 1599  31 cm × 47 cm (12 in × 19 in)  Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan, Italy
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