Thursday, 7 April 2016

Caravaggio's St John the Baptist.


After the relentless repetition
of Annunciation, Nativity and Crucifixion,
the sadistic scenes of Last Judgment,
their florid, cruel sensuality,
their crowded, muscular nakedness;

after the ornate splendour of palaces
covered from wall to ceiling
in blue, gold and red,
depictions of battle, death and victory
or violent, Biblical narrative;


after these you walk down a darkened crypt,
past fading depictions of gospel scenes,
your mind numb from days of surfeit
and suddenly there it is,
Caravaggio's "St. John the Baptist",

not a prophet from the Judean wilderness
with fiery, uncompromising words
but a slender 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 real wonder is its truthfulness.
He turns from his simple shepherd's task
as if you've suddenly surprised him,
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 Caravaggio'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 be privileged by the momentary glimpse
into the mind of that boy
and the transcendent power that captured it.



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