The artist would revisit this figure many times across a period of around a decade. It would become the most re-used individual within his career, although he did do similar with a number of other religious people. The artist would constantly relocate around Italy as a means to escaping the consequences of his unstable and unruly behaviour and this meant that he was often attempting to seek out new patrons each time he moved. Many would have been aware of his previous paintings of John the Baptist and therefore felt that this was safe ground for the artist. There were also periods when Caravaggio liked to focus on portraits of single figures and these commissioned pieces played well into that. His more complex artworks would take longer and require the aid of his assistants and so were much bigger undertakings that could not always be, logistically, possible. You will find all of his different interpretations of John the Baptist featured within our paintings section.
This piece is dated at circa 1604, meaning that it is most likely to have been from that year but there is not enough evidence to completely sure. It is around 130cm wide, and just under one metre tall. Most of Caravaggio's paintings were produced on huge canvases, and this was very much the style of the Baroque and Renaissance eras. The main reason for this would be the way in which they would be hung once complete, normally within large rooms where people may not be able to get up as close as we do today. These huge canvases also enable the artists to produce highly complex compositions in some cases, where dozens of figures are added across the work. In this case, however, Caravaggio works on a fairly simple layout which he tended to prefer in the earlier stages of his career.
This memorable Caravaggio painting can normally be found at the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Palazzo Corsini in Rome, but may be loaned on occasion, so check ahead of any visit that you might be planning. Madonna of the Straw by Anthony van Dyck, Venus and Adonis by Jusepe de Ribera, Salome holding the head of John the Baptist by Guido Reni, Portable Altarpiece with Pietà and Saints by Annibale Carracci and Adoration of the Shepherds and Baptism of Christ by El Greco are some of the extraordinary highlights to be found here, though just a small selection from a truly broad and high class collection. Rome itself is clearly one of the most cultural cities in the world, and so it is necessary for this venue to hold such a prestigious selection of work in order to achieve any level of interest against such a competitive set of cultural sites and venues.