St. John the Baptist by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
Caravaggio produced at least 8 paintings of St. John the Baptist. One of them, John the Baptist, Youth with Ram, is on loan from the Pinacoteca Capitolini in Rome, where it has been since 1750, and is currently on display in the crypt under the Cathedral of Siena. In this Caravaggio painting, a young John the Baptist is seen partially reclining with one arm around the neck of a ram, his head turned to look at the viewer. The pose of the young man is one imitated from Michelangelo’s famous Ignudo found on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, most likely an inside joke for those in the know.
It is believed that this painting of John the Baptist was created in 1602 for Ciriaco Mattei, an Italian noble of Rome. Ciriaco Mattei was one of the most avid art collectors of the time and commissioned several works from Caravaggio, including this one. The painting appears to be a reference to the nobleman’s son, Giovanni Batista Mattei.
It was during the time St. John the Baptist, Youth with Ram was painted that Caravaggio was living in the palazzo of the Mattei family. This was one of the most productive periods of Caravaggio’s career as he was flooded with commissions from a number of wealthy clients. Ciriaco Mattei’s records indicate two payments in 1602 which were made to Caravaggio in July and December, evidently at the beginning and the completion of the St. John the Baptist commission.
This particular view of John the Baptist was a popular one as some 11 copies are known to have been made, including one copy by Caravaggio himself, which is currently held in the Doria Pamphilj Gallery.
The painting will be on exhibit at the Siena Cathedral through August 18, 2013.