The life of St. John the Baptist was a primary subject matter for Caravaggio between 1598 and 1610, in which he created a total of nine works depicting the saint, always reclining in a dark space, enshrouded in a crimson cloth. Aside from "The Beheading of St. John the Baptist" (1608), the biblical figure is always portrayed as a young man, isolated from the human world. He is alone with his thoughts, a divine being living among the beasts of the forest. John, or Jokanaan as he is also known, becomes an enigmatic beauty which is even more evident in Oscar Wilde's 1893 play, Salome: A Tragedy in One Act. The titular character, a femme fatale in her own right, is entranced by the captive saint and his enchanting voice (despite her hatred of him for reviling her mother). Through the princess' strong and overpowering nature, Jokanaan becomes an object of desire. Aubrey Beardsley expanded upon this notion in his sixteen illustrations of Wilde's play. Both Salome and Jokanaan become androgynous figures, eerily similar in appearance, hinting at Wilde's metaphors for non-normative same-sex desire. Jokanaan thus explores the mysteries of beauty, desire, and seclusion that surround the biblical figure.
"It is thy mouth that I desire, Jokanaan. Thy mouth is like a band of scarlet on a tower of ivory . . . Thy mouth is like a branch of coral that fishers have found in the twilight of the sea, the coral that they keep for the kings! . . . It is like the bow of the King of the Persians, that is painted with vermilion, and is tipped with coral. There is nothing in the world so red as thy mouth . . . Let me kiss thy mouth."