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“St John the Baptist” by Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci - St John the Baptist

“St John the Baptist” by Leonardo da Vinci

“St John the Baptist” by Leonardo da Vinci is a High Renaissance oil painting on walnut wood completed from 1513 to 1516. Before this work, Saint John was traditionally portrayed as a gaunt ascetic.

Leonardo’s innovative depiction proved influential upon later artists who show a similarly youthful saint in isolation, with a strong contrast between the dark background and the illumination of the figure.

Through the use of chiaroscuro, the figure appears to emerge from the shadowy background. The Saint is dressed in pelts, has long curly hair, and is smiling in an enigmatic manner reminiscent of Leonardo’s famous Mona Lisa. He holds a reed-cross and points up toward heaven.

Kenneth Clark noted the sense of “uneasiness” that the painting imbues, and other critics have commented on the “disturbingly erotic” depiction. This painting is believed to be Leonardo da Vinci’s final painting, and it may be Leonardo da Vinci’s view of the grace that awaited him.


Chiaroscuro is the use of sharp contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition. Artists known for developing the technique include Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Goya.

“St John the Baptist” by Leonardo da Vinci

  • Title:                              St John the Baptist
  • Artist:                            Leonardo da Vinci
  • Created:                        1516
  • Media:                           oil on panel
  • Dimensions:                  Height: 69 cm (27.1″); Width: 57 cm (22.4″)
  • Type:                             Biblical Art 
  • Museum:                       Louvre Museum

John the Baptist

John the Baptist (late 1st century BC – 28–36 AD) was an itinerant Jewish preacher in the early 1st century AD. John the Baptist is revered as a religious figure in Christianity, Islam, the Bahá’í Faith, and Mandaeism. He is called a prophet by these faiths and is honored as a saint in many Christian traditions.

John anticipated a messianic figure greater than himself, and the Gospels portray John as the precursor of Jesus. According to the New Testament, John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth were relatives.

John used baptism as the central symbol of his pre-messianic movement. John baptized Jesus, and some of Jesus’ early followers had previously been followers of John.

According to the New Testament, John was sentenced to death and subsequently beheaded by Herod Antipas sometime between 28 and 36 AD after John rebuked him for divorcing his wife and then unlawfully wedding the wife of his brother.

“St John the Baptist” by Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian genius whose areas of interest included invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, mathematics, engineering, science, music, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography.

He is widely considered one of the greatest painters of all time, although fewer than two-dozen paintings attributed to him exist.

The reason he did not paint more was that his interests were so vast and varied that he wasn’t a prolific painter.

“St John the Baptist” by Leonardo da Vinci

“St John the Baptist” by Leonardo da Vinci


“Anyone with two tunics should share with him who has none.”
– John the Baptist


Photo Credit 1) Leonardo da Vinci / Public domain; Workshop of Leonardo da Vinci,


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