This is partly because he did this painting during his last years on earth, somewhere between 1513 and 1519.
Leonardo Da Vinci is the one of the artists who is truly famous – all thanks to his great paintings. He has been called the spirit of renaissance, but he is much more than that; he is the very universal age of renaissance. Think of the Mona lisa, the Virgin and the Child... the list goes on.
The Story of St John the Baptist
Leonardo Da Vinci, in his painting, tried to capture the spirit of St. John the Baptist as he is described in the Gospel books of the Bible; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The saint is portrayed as a man of the jungle; a man of the desert. He is said to have eaten locusts and fed on wild honey as his drink.
He wore camel skin and preached the Gospel to anyone who would listen; preparing the way for the Messiah.
Seeing as he later came to be beheaded for his message, the story of St. John the Baptist comes out as one of suffering and betrayal, but it also gives hope and reassurance to those who cared to pay attention to what he was saying.
Many have asked if this is what Leonardo Da Vinci hoped to communicate across in his painting.
It is hard to tell exactly what he is hinting at just from looking at the physical traits of the painting; one has to look deeper into the face, the eyes and the figure of St. John to understand Da Vinci's perspective.
Leonardo paints a strong figure with a fair complexion.
The painting is dark except for the lighting that shines on the saint's body. His face is beautiful, much like a woman's, and his smile spells out enigma.
Leonardo Da Vinci paints his left hand softly; allowing all the attention to the right hand that dominates the picture by pointing towards the sky. Such was the style of Leonardo Da Vinci; he panted figures that were out of the bounds of humanity.
Most of his figures depicted the characteristics of neither males nor females; it was as if he deliberately got rid of this classification so as to allow a more spiritual approach to the criticism of his paintings.
In his last years, Leonardo Da Vinci's faith in Christianity grew; giving him inspiration to paint the link of the old and the new testaments; St John the Baptist.
What was Da Vinci hinting at?
The painting is both light and dark. There is not much to be seen in the background. This leaves all the focus on the figure painted here; assumed to be at the center of two contrasting forces. St John is seen as a pathway from the darkness into the light.
Da Vinci paints his right hand as pointing towards the sky; guiding sinners to the salvation.
There is another structure in the background resembling a cross, around where St John's finger is pointing. The painting is a motif to guide those who are lost onto the true path of righteousness.
The left hand of the saint in the painting points at his chest. This could mean that the heart, or rather the true salvation of the soul, lies at the cross; that it lies with God.
It has however been said that the cross in the background was not present in the original painting, that it was added later to further illustrate the point being made by the genius painter.
The fact that John has his left hand to his chest shows his humility and holy nature as a saint. His smile can be interpreted in two ways; it could be a welcoming gesture to those willing to accept the light, or it could be a sort of a warning to those going towards the darkness.
In this painting, Leonardo Da Vinci found the perfect balance between light and darkness; he found the place where the truth meets the perverse, and in that place, decided to place St John the Baptist to help people make the right choice.
The Style of Da Vinci
Most of his paintings have been passed as shallow and meaningless. Like St John the Baptist, the true messages in Da Vinci's paintings are hidden behind what are considered to be irrational physical human traits.
He painted in unclear brush strokes, but once a viewer clears their imagination of the expectations set by reality, his paintings suddenly become very clear.
In St John the Baptist, there are distractions caused by the figure, his enigmatic smile, the direction of his right hand and the overall lighting in the picture, but all these make sense when observed from a spiritual point of view. Leonardo Da Vinci's St John the Baptist suddenly becomes a guide of the sinner's path to salvation.
Impact of the Painting
This painting, as stated earlier, has not been of much interest to critics. Most have even thought it to be the work of Da Vinci's assistants and not the painter himself, but The St John, with every stroke, points to Leonardo.
It is the least famous among his works, and yet, just like all his other paintings, still carries a significant and profound message about humanity, faith and salvation.
The painting does much more than just send a message, it shows the face of the ultimate messenger, and in its complexity, Da Vinci's painting forces an observer to think.
It is a painting that haunts the memory, begging to be interested. St John the Baptist was painted at a time when artists were drawing their inspiration from the unknown.
It was a time of mystery, and according to Leonardo, mystery was St John; a figure partly covered in light, and partly covered in darkness – a figure with a smile, one hand on his breast the other hand pointing towards the sky.
The St John the Baptist painting hit the Louvre Museum in Paris for another time on Wednesday, November 9th.
This comes after it underwent a ten-month cleaning period in C2RMF which is the nearby restoration and research centre for museums in France. Not only is the painting attractive, but also its ability to indicate details; making it one of the greatest artworks of all-times.