Painting John the Baptist

In the National gallery last week I went to look once more for Giovanni di Paolo's small picture of Saint John the Baptist retiring to the desert, painted in Siena in 1454.

When I was asked to approach it on my own terms for an exhibition at the end of last year, this is how I responded in paint -


.. and this is what I said about it:

The journey starts with a departure, a leaving behind.
What is known, contained, ordered, gives way to the distant and unscalable space of the wilderness.
The path is both a physical passage and an internal exploration. It has a beginning but no clear ending, a curved ascent through time and space. There are moments when Giovanni's magical image recalls the skybound ascetics in the mountains of Chinese pictures; and others when I remember  walking in the mapless desert, with the acute sense of uncertainty and discovery it engenders in the pared down and vulnerable presence of the traveller.