Baptism of Christ
- The scene depicts the establishment of baptism as a sacrament, when Christ stands in the River Jordan and his cousin, St. John the Baptist, pours water over his head as a purifying ritual. Then God the Father appears in the heavens and pronounces that Christ is his son. In art, the scene is usually depicted with the dove of the Holy Spirit descending upon the figures. Examples include Andrea Pisano's quatrefoil gilded bronze relief on the south doors of the Baptistery of Florence (1330-1333) and Piero della Francesca's scene painted in the 1450s (London, National Gallery) as the central panel of a polyptych for the Camaldolese abbey of San Sepolcro. Andrea del Verrocchio's version of c. 1472-1475 (Florence, Uffizi) shows the hands of God releasing the Holy Dove. Two angels, the one on the left executed by Leonardo da Vinci while apprenticed with Verrocchio, kneel in response to the solemnity of the event. Tintoretto's version (c. 1570; Madrid, Prado) is a pretext for the depiction of the sensuous male nude form, while El Greco's (1608-1614; Toledo, Hospital de San Juan Bautista de Afuera) shows an explosion of lines and color in the upper portion where God the Father gives his blessing to his son and angels witness the event. Finally, Gerard David viewed the scene (c. 1502-1507; Bruges, Groeningemuseum) as an opportunity to not only depict the seminude body of Christ but also his legs under water.
Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. Lilian H. Zirpolo. 2008.
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