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Saint John the Baptist

Giovanni Baglione (Rome, 1566-1643)
Signed and dated (bottom centre): G. BAGLIONE AD 1600
94 x 75 cm (unframed); 126 x 106.5 cm (framed)
Oil on canvas
  • Property of a private collector, Christie’s, New York, Sale 1822: Important Old Master Paintings Including Property from the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker, in 19 April 2007, lot 87, as ‘Giovanni Baglione’

Exhibition History

  • Exhibited at ‘Roma al tempo di Caravaggio, 1600-1630’ at the Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Venezia in Rome in 2011-2012.

Publication History

  • Published without image in the exhibition catalogue ‘Roma al tempo di Caravaggio, 1600-1630,’ edited by Rossella Vodret, Italy: Skira, 2012.

Giovanni Baglione (1566-1643) was an important painter in 17th-century Rome, but remains mostly known for writing a collection of biographies of other artists and for his disputes with Caravaggio. Initially working in a Late Mannerist vein, at the turn of the 17th century, Baglione became influenced by the Caravaggisti and this is apparent in works such as the ‘St John the Baptist’ shown in this exhibition. Baglione later assimilated Bolognese influence before adopting a more general Roman Early Baroque style. Baglione executed paintings for many important churches in Rome. This painting is signed and dated G. Baglione AD 1600 in the lower centre. The attribution was confirmed by the American art historian, Keith Christiansen.

This work by Baglione is an important example of his transitory phase where he was greatly influenced by the style of Caravaggio. It is inspired by Caravaggio’s depictions of young men as models in many of his early works, such as the ‘Bacchino Malato’ at the Borghese Gallery and Museum, Rome. Baglione adopts Caravaggio’s naturalism, while not entirely his tenebrism. Chromatically, especially in the use of bright red, this painting still shows overtones of late Mannerism. The hand of St John the Baptist is reminiscent of similar gestures in Caravaggio’s works, such as in ‘The Calling of St Matthew’ at the San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome. The dark background, the sole focus on the figure, and the direct gaze at the viewer are certainly Caravaggesque.

Despite admiring Caravaggio’s early works and taking inspiration from them, Baglione and Caravaggio became enemies. Baglione sued Caravaggio and his circle for defamation related to unflattering poems which circulated in Rome. Baglione accused Caravaggio of being jealous of his award of a significant commission for the church of Il Gesù. In his testimony, Caravaggio famously said that Baglione’s work was not praiseworthy and that Baglione was not a good painter. Seeing this painting of ‘St John the Baptist’, one tends to disagree with Caravaggio’s testimony. Baglione was a very good painter, though not innovative. The soft curls of the saint and animal-fur attire are very well rendered with minute detail. The placement of the small bowl, which the saint is holding on the edge of a wall at the forefront of the painting, is a good exercise in foreshortening and draws the eye to the signature of Baglione on the wall, which is barely visible. The general attributes of St John the Baptist are all present: the animal fur symbolising his time in the wilderness, the small bowl used in baptising Christ, and the cross with the scroll banner bearing the words ‘Ecce Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi’, meaning ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’ This is a message inviting the viewer to penitence and prayer, however, the youthful, almost sensual, pose, look and gestures of the young saint show that the painter focused more on the aesthetic value of the painting, rather than its devotional function.

MACIOCE, Stefania (ed.), Giovanni Baglione (1566-1644). Pittore E Biografo Di Artisti, Lithos Editrice, Italy, 2002 VODRET, Rossella (ed.), Roma al tempo di Caravaggio, Skira, Milan, Italy, 2012

WITTKOWER, Rudolf, Revised by CONNORS, Joseph and MONTAGU, Jennifer, Art and Architecture in Italy 1600-1750 I. Early Baroque, 6th edition, Yale University Press, US, 1999

Audio Guide – Maltese

Audio Guide – English

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