Analysis of the painting Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness hangs at the Nelson-Atkins Museum

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The painting of John the Baptist, also known as John in the Wilderness, was one of Caravaggio's last eight artworks. Michelangelo Merisi, also known as Caravaggio, was an Italian Baroque painter who lived from 1571 to 1610. In 1604, Caravaggio was commissioned by art patron Ottavio Costa to paint a John the Baptist for the papal banker, who also owned the other Caravaggio works, Judith Beheading Holofernes, Martha, and Mary Magdalene (Magister, 2002). Costa sought to use the painting of John the Baptist for an altarpiece for some small oratory in the fiefdom of Concscente, which was a village near Albenga, at Italian Riviera. Costa, however, admired the artwork and sent a copy of it to the oratory while keeping the original copy in his artwork collection gallery. The original painting has since been kept in Nelson-Atkins Museum located in Kansas City, in the US (Magister, 2002).

The original painting of John the Baptist (In the Wilderness) (source: )

The painting has some stark contrasts of dark and light that heighten the notion that the figure inclines forward, out of the deep background shadows and into the viewer’s own space light realm. It appears actually as if the painter instilled in this painting work an component of the crucial pessimism of the preaching of the Baptist, including the pointless catastrophe of his initial martyrdom (Magister, 2002). It also depicted some measure of the painter’s own disturbed psyche. The gravity of the saint is partially illustrated, also by the function of the painting as the pivotal point of the meeting point of a confraternity whose agenda was to care for the dying and sick as well as burying the corpses of victims of plague (Magister, 2002).

As pointed out by Peter Robb, Caravaggio’s biographer, the fourth Baptist appears like a psychic mirror-image of the initial work, with every sign inverted. The vivid sunrise light that bathed initial painting has emerged as harsh and almost lunate in its contrasts. In terms of symbols, there is nothing to illustrate this artwork to be actually a religious image. There was no leather girdle, sheep, halo, or nothing except the thin reed cross that was a reference to the description of Jesus Christ by John as a reed that is shaken by the wing (Magister, 2002).

The artwork illustrates Caravaggio’s expression for the drama of human being presence. This almost adult, adolescent John appears to be locked in some private world understood only by his creator. The painter’s idea of the saint as a solitary, seated figure, without almost any narrative identity was actually revolutionary (Magister, 2002). It is hard for an observer to tell whether this figure in the painting is actually John the Baptist. Earlier artists including Bellin and Giotto had illustrated the Baptist as an approachable story, a symbol that is easily understandable to everyone. It should include the idea that an artwork should illustrate a private world, instead of a common religious, coupled with social experiences (Magister, 2002).

Caravaggio’s penchant for half-figures appeared as a new approach in the west. He pulled the viewer’s right into what occasionally appeared completely unplanned action. This was coupled b darkening the figure’s background, while establishing figures that appeared to be stark with surprising angles of light (Magister, 2002). The painter assisted in popularizing saints’ images not as porcelain perfections, but a observers could view as they passed on the streets.

Caravaggio’s revolutionary approach of dramatic, tenebrism, and selective illumination of form from deep shadow, emerged as a hallmark of the then Baroque painting. He scorned the customary fanciful explanation of several religious subjects (Magister, 2002). The artist took his models from the streets and made a realistic painting of them. The painter’s insistence on concentration and clarity, coupled with vigorous and strong drawings of his subjects connected the painter’s Roman work with the classical convention of Italian painting that took place in the Renaissance (Magister, 2002).

In the painting of John the Baptist, Caravaggio introduced a fresh note of drama and realism. The figure was presented with sunburnt and roughened hands, and a laborer neck. He also had a pale torso emerging with a contrast which reminds the observer that this actually was a boy who had undressed for the modeling session (Magister, 2002).

During this time in Rome, was perceived as a city of global idleness especially of higher clerics, and the destitute. It was a city with no professions or trade. Churchmen were perceived to be bureaucrats and playboys. Laymen were normally condemned for being courtiers, while young boys and girls were perceived prostitutes. Wealth and money was inherited and exhortations were high. This was not an era that welcomed an art which emphasized the real happenings (Magister, 2002).

The medium used in Caravaggio’s artwork was oil on canvas. The conventional oil painting approach normally commenced with the painter sketching the figure onto the canvas material with thinned paint or charcoal. This process included painting with pigments using a medium of drying oil as the binder. The oil colors were created by mixing dry powder pigments with identified refined linseed oil in order to stiff paste in a consistent way and grinding it by stable contact in steel roller mills (Magister, 2002).

In evaluating Caravaggio’s artwork, the text, which referred to the artifact itself that includes the medium, in this case the oil on canvas, its form, and the content, which refers to the subject the painting described (BibleGateway, 2017). Caravaggio’s painting could be evaluated as: text Saint John the Baptist, Context was John the Baptists being in the wildness. Subtext includes the emotional as well as intellectual messages illustrated in the text revealing much about the values of the creator’s artifacts. The message was based on the gospel of repentance as depicted in Matthew 3:1, where John the Baptist was preaching in the desert of Judea (Magister, 2002).

John the Baptist was believed to be a vibrant prophet who introduced the story of Jesus Christ in the four Gospels. In this context, John the Baptist is seen dressing like Prophet Elijah. He sounded like Isaiah, as the bible indicates that John was introduced to the Christian community as a fulfillment of the Isaiah 40:3 (BibleGateway, 2017).

“The vocal sound of one crying out loud in the desert, saying, ‘make the way of the Lord’”, is a context, as earlier illustrated by Isaiah, in the wilderness where God’s highway will be paved. While saying this, John the Baptist appears to be in the scribble wildness of Judea, believed to be near the Dead Sea and Jordan. John is calling out the Jews to repentance, failure to which the judgment that commences with the God’s household befall on then instantly. Probably John the Baptist had been part and parcel of the community within the Dead Sea. He, however, went out to call upon the entire Israel community to repent and therefore connect with the call with a baptism in the river Jordan (BibleGateway, 2017).

Metanoia, a Greek work for repentance, referred to far more than just being sorry for one’s past sins, or regrets or feeling remorseful for their sins. It meant to turning away from the previous acts and behaviour that resulted in such sins. It also involved the inauguration of a fresh and new being, in which case initialized by baptism. John in this context is calling for repentance of people who believed in the Biblical God and those who wanted to convert to Christianity. John’s call to Christianity appears to provide the people with an approach of remission of their sins without going to the city of Jerusalem and offer sacrifices to God. In this case, the leadership at Jerusalem would have been uneasy with John because of his adversarial attitude towards the gospel of repentance. John he was also referring to them as snake spawns (BibleGateway, 2017).

Interestingly, John affirmed that just being Abraham’s descendant or an pious individual of faith in itself never exempt that individual from the judgment if they fail to repent and change from the old ways of life. John foresaw a judgment that would befell on the land of Israel to separate the wheat from chaff, something even Jesus Christ also appears to have envisioned (BibleGateway, 2017).

Modern Christian have been challenged with the them of being like John the Baptist, by being asked the question of the ways in which they are preparing the way of the Messiah our Lord, and creating straight path for our Lord in their lives and in the lives of other people. This image of John the Baptist also presents us with the theme of humility. John knew that there would be the One who will come after him that who he acknowledges that he himself is not worth of being the household slave, whose task involved unlacing the sandals of the master. Jesus would come to baptize people with the far more potent and life changing Holy Ghost (BibleGateway, 2017).

Works Cited

BibleGateway. Matthew 3 - IVP New Testament Commentaries: Warnings of a Wilderness Prophet. Web. 2017. May 5, 2017.

Cantrell, Scott. Art Review: The Revolutionary Visions of Caravaggio and Company. Web. 2012. May 5, 2017.

Magister, Senex. Caravaggio Italian Baroque Painter. Web. 2002. May 5, 2017.

August 26, 2022

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