Baptism of Christ,
Painted by Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-1488) and Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519),
Painted between 1472-1475,
Oil on wood
© Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Feast of Baptism of the Lord
Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John. John tried to dissuade him. ‘It is I who need baptism from you’ he said ‘and yet you come to me!’ But Jesus replied, ‘Leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that righteousness demands.’ At this, John gave in to him.
As soon as Jesus was baptised he came up from the water, and suddenly the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. And a voice spoke from heaven, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him.’
Reflection on the painting
Our painting depicting the Baptism of Christ, was painted between 1472-1475 in the studio of Andrea del Verrocchio, with the help of his pupil Leonardo da Vinci. The angel to the far left is painted by the youthful Leonardo. If you look up close, you will notice the face is painted by a different hand from the rest of the painting.
The two angels to the left of the river Jordan are in a kneeling position. One (Leonardo’s angel) is holding Jesus’s garment, and the other is shown with hands folded; both are depicted in front of the palm tree, symbolic of salvation. Early Christians already used the palm branch to symbolize the victory of the faithful over enemies of the soul, as in the Palm Sunday festival celebrating the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Saint John the Baptist is holding a staff with a gold cross at the top as he pours the river water on Jesus’s head. There is an inscription on the scroll that John has by his hand which includes the first two words of a passage from John 1:29, "ECCE AGNUS DEI QUI TOLLIT PECCATA MUNDI" ("Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”). God’s hands can be seen in the heavens, at the very top of the painting, sending down the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.
Today’s Gospel contains three quotations. The first has John being uneasy about baptising Jesus; the second is Jesus’ explanation about why John should go ahead and baptise him; and the third is the voice from heaven. All three are present in this magnificent painting.
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