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Circle of Annibale Carracci, Saint John the Baptist seated in the Wilderness

Key facts
Full title Saint John the Baptist seated in the Wilderness
Artist Circle of Annibale Carracci
Artist dates 1560 - 1609
Date made early 17th century
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 133.7 × 96.6 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1824
Inventory number NG25
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Saint John the Baptist seated in the Wilderness
Circle of Annibale Carracci

A young man reclines in a rocky landscape, filling a bowl with water spouting from a rock. With his naked torso he looks more like a classical god than a biblical figure, but this is Saint John the Baptist, a forerunner of Christ (whom he baptised). John lived as a hermit in the desert, preaching to and baptising the people of Judea and Jerusalem.

This is clearly not first-century Palestine, however, and this is not a wild desert prophet. The saint’s nakedness, his recumbent pose and the cup he holds up all recall classical depictions of Bacchus, god of wine.

Although no longer attributed to Annibale Carracci, the picture was probably painted by someone quite close to him, perhaps a direct pupil rather than just a follower.

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