After the relentless repetition
Of Annunciation, Nativity and Crucifixion;
After the sadistic scenes of Last Judgment
With their florid, cruel sensuality,
Their crowded, muscular nakedness;
After the ornate splendour of palaces
Covered from wall to ceiling in paintings
Abundant in blue, gold and red,
Depictions of battle, death and victory
Or violent, Biblical narrative;
After the Duomos' marbled ostentation,
Their great domes, sculptures and dark themes-
After these things you walk down a darkened crypt,
Past fading depictions of gospel scenes,
Your mind numb from days of surfeit
And there it is, Carravaggio's "St. John the Baptist",
Not the prophet from the Judaean wilderness
With his fiery, uncompromising words
But a slender boy, or perhaps a youth,
Rendered in exquisite truthfulness.
His skin is luminously beautiful.
The light, from the left, touches him
On cheekbone, shoulder, thigh, knee, calf.
The lines, composition and colour are masterful
But its transcending wonder is in its truthfulness.
The youth turns from his simple herder's task
As if you've suddenly surprised him,
Not in anxiety but in a complex mixture
Of amusement, confidence and shyness,
A friendly, joyous gaze
As if the nuance of his mind
In this single, fleeting moment
Has been caught in Carravaggio's brush
And effortlessly placed upon the canvas
So we, who come to it after so many centuries,
Can be transfixed by its beauty and truth,
And feel thankful for the privileged glimpse
Into the momentary mind of that boy
And the transcendent power that captured it.