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Verrocchio (and workshop including da Vinci) - The Baptism of Christ

by Alexandra Tuschka

The baptism scene of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist in the Jordan River is shown. Both men have gone into the river for this purpose. John is about to pour out a small vessel over the head of the Saviour. He has closed his eyes and folded his hands in prayer. Both men are very slender, John also expresses his life as an ascetic in the desert. The reed cross is his traditional symbol and in this case it is even crowned with gold. The inscription "ECCE AGNUS DEI" is also an invitation to us viewers, but according to the Bible originally addressed to the people "Behold the Lamb of God". In the Bible, John equated Jesus with the Lamb of God, whose sacrifice redeems humanity from its sins. God the Father himself is also present, strictly speaking only his hands. These send forth the Holy Spirit in the form of a white dove. A dark bird of prey is obviously integrated as a contrast, this one flees to the trees on the right edge of the picture. While the palm tree on the left stands for life and salvation, the dense conifers on the right can be interpreted as a symbol of darkness. All four figures have halos, that of Jesus is distinguished by a cross. The angels have no wings and are guarding Jesus' discarded clothes.

Andrea del Verrocchio was a very successful goldsmith and painter with a large workshop. The 15-year-old Leonardo da Vinci was also present in this workshop. Based on descriptions in Francesco Alberti and Vasari, he is credited with the elaboration of the left angel and parts of the background in this work. Over time, this has led to a strong emphasis on this figure in art scholarship, which for many viewers heralds the High Renaissance. The figure's soft curls, ideal profile and the angel's divine origins shining through are directly juxtaposed with the childlike and somewhat awkward-looking other angel. The contrast is also heightened because the boy on the right, like the rest of the work, was executed in tempera, but Leonardo's angel in oil.

An anecdote described by Vasari says that Verrochio himself painted this second angel. After viewing both angels, he says, he became so angry that his young pupil had surpassed him that he renounced painting and concentrated in future only on goldsmithing and sculpture. Certainly, such interpretations are not to be taken too seriously; the outsized focus of scholarship on da Vinci's angel naturally goes hand in hand with its contemporary art-historical evaluation. At that time - contrary to today's mores - it was not unusual for many artists to work together in a workshop on common works. Thus, one can say with a clear conscience that the divine hands and the accompanying rays of light are not of too great artistry and break somewhat with the style. The work was still in its place of origin, the monastery of San Salvi in Florence, until the 16th century; today it is in the Uffizi Gallery.

Verrocchio (with da Vinci) - The Baptism of Christ

Tempera and oil on canvas, c. 1475, 151 x 177 cm, Uffizi Gallery, Florence


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