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Sources of Inspiration: Caravaggio’s ‘John the Baptist’

IMG_2939I just got a real treat last month. I went to Rome and saw my favorite Caravaggio painting in person; ‘John the Baptist’. This playful, ethereal boy is so different than the martyr, the severed head in other versions of John the Baptist. This is also very different from the two other paintings Caravaggio has done of ‘John the Baptist’, which are also in Rome. No shadow of death or despair touches this boy. He teases playfully, as he smiles coyly at us from a veneer of cloth, which enhances his nudity rather than concealing it. What is he subtly telling us with his smile? What does this representative of the Judeo Christian faith, emerging between Renaissance and Baroque periods suggest to you?

For me, this John is the embodiment of the beauty and youth, which so struck Plato and others like him, making them bow their heads in awe. He is Ganymede. He is Giton. He is Dionysus. He is youthful innocence and mischief incarnate. He’s somehow magical as well, encouraging us, teasing us, asking us to look for something wondrous, something magical ourselves. It’s easy to see him as the representative of Caravaggio’s own love of beautiful boys, wrapped in a shroud of sanctity as protection. Just looking at this John inspires me to think a little differently about art and faith. How art and faith can combine, as well as collide. How does it affect you, dear reader? What ideas do you get, when you look at this painting? Do you have a painting, which you love, which has inspired you? Or made you think?

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