Listening to Art

03.06: Caravaggio, Saint John the Baptist

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Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume three, number six: Saint John the Baptist by Caravaggio.

Hello, and welcome to Listening to Art. I’m William Denton.

Continuing the discussion in the previous issue about Caravaggio’s technique, I quote again from Andrew Graham-Dixon’s Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane (p. 185):

Caravaggio’s habitual impatience is manifest too in his frequent practice of working wet-in-wet rather than waiting for each layer of oil paint to dry. He was unique among the painters of his time in making no preparatory drawings for his paintings, preferring to block out his compositions directly on the primed canvas. Having posed his models, he often marked the exact positions of heads and other contours by making light incisions in the base layer of paint, presumably so that he could reset the models’ positions after every break in the work. No other artist of his time used such incisions.

Saint John the Baptist was painted in 1602 and was one of three paintings commissioned by Ciriaco Mattei, a member of a powerful Roman family. The last was The Taking of Christ, which we will hear in the next issue.

This is a painting, oil on canvas, 95 cm wide by 129 cm high.

Now let’s listen to Saint John the Baptist by Caravaggio, recorded at the Capitoline Museums, in Rome, on 29 May 2018.

Waveform of the field recording.

That was Saint John the Baptist by Caravaggio. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did.

For more information and links to things I’ve mentioned, please visit

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All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

Graham-Dixon, Andrew. Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010.

Musei Capitolini. “Saint John the Baptist.” Musei Capitolini.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Caravaggio,”

⸻, s.v. “Ciriaco Mattei,”