With the possible exception of several Caravaggios, my favorite painting in Rome on my most recent visit was this painting (the reproduction here isn't great) of Saint John the Baptist by Veronese, in the Borghese Gallery. The planes of the painting—John’s body and arms, the trees in the background—are at slightly rakish angles, and the colors—reds, oranges, olives—seem pleasingly unexpected.
The figure of Jesus in the lower left, just coming into view, must have been painted with John 3:22-26, especially verses 29-30, in mind. When asked what he thinks about his disciples flocking to Jesus, John the Baptist says: “The bride [i.e, God’s people] belongs to the bridegroom [i.e. Christ]. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and is now complete. He [Christ] must become greater, I must become less.”
This, in my view, is one of the greatest acts of humility in history.
When I recently mentioned this painting, and the passage from the Gospel of John, to a dear friend who knows more about art than anyone I know (and, truth be told, likes the Veronese painting but doesn’t love it as much as I do), I commented that it’s hard to imagine a superstar of any sort in our own time saying, as John did: my turn is done; I’ll step aside now.
My friend responded that the verses reminded him, “on a more mundane scale,” of a conference on academic medicine he attended two years ago. One of the presenters was one of the leading figures in the field, “a senior man but still in his prime. Another was a rising star. The former, introducing the latter, made remarks very close to John’s. I was moved,” my friend recalled, “as was, visibly, the ‘rising star.’”