Old Master Minute

Leonardo’s Saint John the Baptist heads to Abu Dhabi

By Sotheby's
Picture: thenationalnews.com

Leonardo da Vinci’s St John the Baptist has this week begun its journey from the Louvre, Paris, to the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The Italian renaissance masterpiece will hang in the Middle East for two years, following the previous loan in 2017 of the Paris Louvre’s Leonardo, La Belle Ferronniere. The earlier loan marked the Abu Dhabi gallery’s first anniversary and the present picture’s relocation celebrates its fifth.

The painting is both a preeminent example of Leonardo’s signature ‘smoky’ sfumato technique and is also an early example of the kind of chiaroscuro so ubiquitous in Italian painting of the later 16th and 17th centuries. These painterly effects have become all the more apparent in recent years as, in 2016, the picture was cleaned for the first time since 1802, with fifteen layers of discoloured varnish being removed in the process.

Although many in Paris are sad to see this picture leave France, surely the desert is the natural habitat for this wandering, hairshirt wearing, locust easting Saint?

Sotheby’s London recently sold, in their July 2022 ‘Master Works on Paper from Five Centuries’ sale, a chalk drawing after Leonardo’s Last Supper of The Head of Saint John the Evangelist, for £189,000.

Old Master Minute