Giovanni Baglione, “Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness,” circa 1610, oil on canvas, 76-3/8 x 59 1/2 inches

In this ongoing series for Fine Art Today, we take a longer look at the history and features of a soon-to-be-available artwork of note. This week we highlight a magnetic painting of Saint John the Baptist that leads Sotheby’s January 31 Otto Naumann Sale.

On January 31, Sotheby’s New York will be delighted to offer property from the collection of Otto Naumann, who, in addition to being a world-renowned art dealer, is an art historian and voracious collector. The sale features European paintings from the 16th to the 19th centuries that exemplify Otto’s impressive eye for timeless pictures of the highest quality.

Highlighting the sale is a brilliant painting of Saint John the Baptist, painted circa 1610 by Giovanni Baglione (1566-c.1643). Baglione is perhaps best known for his scathing criticisms of a contemporary, painter Michelangelo Caravaggio. Baglione’s detailed biography of the troubled Caravaggio has proved invaluable to history — but scholars often look at his information with a bit of caution, citing his obvious bias and vitriol toward his fellow artist.

The canvas available during the January 31 sale in New York is a fantastic example of early baroque theatricality and tenebrist light. According to the auction house, “the painting was rediscovered in a private collection where it had remained since 1970, bearing a later inscription in the lower right corner, reading CARRACCI. Despite the inscription, the hand was recognized as that of Giovanni Baglione and the painting was sold with the correct attribution at Sotheby’s London in 2012 with a tentative dating to 1603. A later cleaning of the painting under the ownership of Naumann revealed Baglione’s actual signature and a significant amount of detail.

“With its starkly lit figure and pronounced tenebrism effect, it is tempting to compare this Saint John the Baptist to Caravaggio’s treatment of the subject in the Nelson Atkins Museum, Kansas City. Baglione, in fact, painted the saint on numerous occasions in the course of his career, though the present work is by far the largest and most accomplished. A preparatory drawing was sold at Sotheby’s London in 1977 and is typically rapid in execution, as was Baglione’s style as a draughtsman. It maps out the composition very clearly and shows that from an early stage in the creative process Baglione was keen to include both the foreground plants and the background landscape, elements which are more often merely alluded to in his work. This notably disciplined approach runs counter to Caravaggio’s preparatory methods.”

Auction estimates anticipate the painting will sell for $400,000-$600,000. To learn more, visit Sotheby’s.

This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.


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