John the Baptist (1602, Capitoline Museums) Caravaggio Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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This portrait of John the Baptist was delivered by Caravaggio in 1602 and was one of a number of paintings that the artist produced of this figure in the early 17th century. This particular piece can be found at the Capitoline Museums in Rome, Italy.

The artist was able to complete single figure portraits by himself and this allowed him to be more flexible in the projects that he took on, as well as attracting a wider variety of patrons. His much more complex pieces would require the aid of assistants, particularly when considering the enormous size of canvas in some of his more ambitious projects. He was not someone able to stay rooted in one part of Italy for too long, and so required local patrons to help finance his life and career. His artistic reputation would spread across the country as his work developed and this made it easier each time he moved on to a new province. Whilst some European artists have found comfort in the Royal Court, such as Spanish painters Francisco de Goya and Diego Velazquez, Caravaggio was very much his own man and would always choose artistic freedom over financial security, which was something that most of us today would fully respect.

The model used in this painting would reappear in several other Caravaggio paintings. This piece is also sometimes known as Youth with a Ram and he would produce a near identical version in the same year. We see the naked young boy with a large smile as he looks directly at us. The Ram appears to be smelling him and the two are very comfortable in each other's company. The clothes that he was wearing are directly underneath him, with a white shirt, heavy cloth coat and perhaps a small fur to keep his warm as well. They are outdoors, as represented by a large number of small shrubs which are placed around the scene, though most are relatively darkened in order to avoid distracting the viewer's eye away from the main focal point.

The Capitoline Museums in Rome features a fine selection of sculpture, with that medium being their main focus. There are some notable painting interspersed within the collection, however, including the Caravaggio work that we discuss here. Besides Roman sculpture, you will also find plenty of Greek and Egyptian figures here as well, making it an excellent survey of different styles of this challenging artistic discipline. Bernini's Medusa would have to be one of the standout items within this extensive collection, in terms of the fame of this artist, but most major themes are included here by a variety of other names, making it an excellent introduction for those looking to learn more about historic sculpture from a number of different countries.