LEONARDO da Vinci
(b. 1452, Vinci, d. 1519, Cloux, near Amboise)

St John in the Wilderness (Bacchus)

1510-15
Oil on panel transferred to canvas, 177 x 115 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

The Baptist, crowned with a laurel wreath, wearing a fur garment and carrying a staff, is with his left hand possibly pointing to a spring and holding a bunch of grapes. The fur and staff can be interpreted as attributes of the Baptist, and the fruit and laurel wreath as ones belonging to the classical god of wine. Given the poor state of preservation of the work, it is difficult to decide whether the laurel wreath and grapes were actually part of the original composition. There is at any rate a text that equates St John with Bacchus: the "Ovide moralise" by Pierre Bersuire, dating from the 14th century. A design for the painting shows the naked St John, though without the attributes of Bacchus. This painting was presumably produced by Francesco Melzi in Leonardo's workshop.