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Italian, Saint John the Baptist

Key facts
Full title Saint John the Baptist
Artist Italian
Date made probably 1640-60
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 77.8 × 62.3 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Dame Joan Evans, 1979
Inventory number NG6455
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Saint John the Baptist

A young man wearing only an animal skin is illuminated against a dark rock, leaning forward to drink water trickling from a spring. With one hand he props himself up on the rock and with the other he holds a reed cross – an attribute which identifies him as Saint John the Baptist, the desert hermit who foretold the coming of Christ.

This painting was once attributed to Caravaggio, or to one of his followers, but it was probably painted in the mid-seventeenth century in Rome. Caravaggio painted a number of pictures of the Baptist as an adolescent, including a scene of him leaning on a rock and drinking directly from a spring, of which numerous copies and variants exist, attesting to its popularity in the seventeenth century. Although not directly related to that composition, our painting’s tight crop, dramatic lighting and naturalistic rendering of the Baptist’s body are all ultimately inspired by Caravaggio’s example.

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