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first half of the 16th century
Material and technique
tempera on wood
cm 64 x 84
Alessandro Zuccari
The Gospel episode of the baptism of Christ is depicted in a typical Northern landscape of wooded hills, rocky outcrops, turreted castles and shepherds’ dwellings. The Saviour stands in the river Jordan, which flows through the scene, while John the Baptist, kneeling, pours water over his head. In the centre of the composition an angel with multicoloured wings, dressed in rich liturgical vestments holds up Jesus’ tunic. At the top of the painting, God the Father appears in a small circle of light, giving his blessing, and in the centre, just above the trees, hovers the dove of the Holy Spirit. In the background, amid the surrounding countryside, three groups of figures illustrate episodes in the life of the Precursor: on the left, John points out the ‘Lamb of God’ to two disciples; on the right, he preaches to the crowd and baptises the penitent. In the upper corners of the painting, two angels bear the coats of arms of the families who commissioned the work.
The horizontal format of the painting and its small size indicate that it was intended for private use. The style is elegant and a little dry, leading the painting to be attributed to the Master of the von Groote Adoration, named for the triptych at one time in the collection of Freiherr von Groote. Despite the archaic style of the figures and the spatial organization, the work is an interesting example of early sixteenth-century Flemish painting.
Baptism of Christ
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