Saint John the Baptist
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St. John the Baptist by Leonardo da Vinci has been through the art-ringer.

Who would think that a professional conservation recommendation would cause so much blow-back. What was the big to-do you might ask? Well, folks were nervous that one of Leonardo’s last artworks would be damaged during the restoration like another poor painting by the artist, The Virgin and Child with St. Anne.

I mean, I get it, to some art historians the restorers f---ed up bad. Like so bad they should never have graduated with their conservation degree bad. In short, the conservation of The Virgin and Child with St. Anne was fraught form the beginning with restorers, art historians, and museum employees from the Louvre Museum arguing about the proper way to go about cleaning the painting. Two art experts believed the painting was stripped of some essential details, while others believed the cleaning was long overdue. It was a hot mess that management at the Louvre did not want to get into again.

But, St. John the Baptist, was really dirty. I mean, it hasn’t been cleaned in over 200 years (the last cleaning was in 1802.) So it’s understandable that the team at the Louvre would want to bring the late masterpiece to life, in spite of the risks associated with any major conservation project.

Aside from one of the world’s leading Leonardo da Vinci scholars who found the cleaning reprehensible, the conservation project was seen as a success. Over fifteen layers of varnish was removed from the canvas, relaying the artist’s famous sfumato technique, and showcases St. John’s voluptuous curls and fur pelt he wears in the portrait. Not only was the painting brought back to life so to speak, but through new x-ray technology, experts were able to see that Leo himself repeatedly retouched the painting until he died in 1519. The painting was commissioned for the private adoration of a well-to-do client, and now after the cleaning we can see why. Those curls, that twinkle in his eye makes the high cost of restoration worth it.

Restoring Leonardos is a risky business, and as time goes on, the art of restoring these masterpieces will only magnify. But for now, let’s all try to get along and agree it is a pleasure to see Leonardo’s talent in the little details of St. John the Baptist.



  1. Lewis, Danny. “The Louvre Has Restored ‘St. John the Baptist.’” Smithsonian Magazine SmartNews. November 9, 2016. Accessed December 17, 2018.
  2. Muñoz-Alonso, Lorena. “Louvre Unveils Controversial Restoration of Leonardo Da Vinci Masterpiece.” Artnet. November 7, 2016. Accessed December 17, 2018.
  3. Philipson, Alice. “Da Vinci Expert Says ‘St. John the Baptist’ at Risk from Louvre Restoration.” The Telegraph. February 10, 2016. Accessed December 17, 2018.
  4. Sciolino, Elaine. “Clash Over Restoration Bitterly Divides Art Experts.” The New York Times. January 3, 2012. Accessed December 17, 2018.
  5. Tarbox, Wilson. “The Risky Business of Restoring Leonardos.” Hyperallergic. December 12, 2016. Accessed December 17, 2018.

Featured Content

Here is what Wikipedia says about Saint John the Baptist (Leonardo)

Saint John the Baptist is a High Renaissance oil painting on walnut wood by Leonardo da Vinci. Likely completed between 1513 to 1516, it is believed to be his final painting. The original size of the painting was 69 by 57 centimetres (27 in × 22 in). It is now exhibited at the Musée du Louvre in Paris, France.

Subject matter

The work depicts the figure of John the Baptist in isolation through the use of chiaroscuro, with the figure appearing to emerge from the shadowy background. The saint is dressed in furs, has long curly hair and is smiling in an enigmatic manner reminiscent of Leonardo's famous Mona Lisa. He holds a reed cross in his left hand, while his right hand points up toward heaven, similar to the figure of Saint Anne in Leonardo's Burlington House Cartoon. According to Frank Zöllner, Leonardo's use of sfumato "conveys the religious content of the picture", with the "gentle shadows [imbuing] the subject's skin tones with a very soft, delicate appearance, almost androgynous in its effect".

Kenneth Clark claimed that for Leonardo, Saint John represented "the eternal question mark, the enigma of creation", and noted the sense of "uneasiness" that the painting imbues. Barolsky adds that: "Describing Saint John emerging from the darkness in almost shockingly immediate relation to the beholder, Leonardo magnifies the very ambiguity between spirit and flesh. The grace of Leonardo's figure, which has a disturbingly erotic charge, nonetheless conveys a spiritual meaning to which Saint John refers when he speaks of the fullness of grace from God."

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Saint John the Baptist (Leonardo).

Comments (2)


I like this picture because John the Baptist looks like a surfer.


I love this painting because john the baptist is my favorite person in the bible.