The Baptism of Christ

oil and tempera on panel (37 × 26 cm) — c. 1380 Museum Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

This work is linked to Mark 1:9

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John baptises Jesus with water from the river Jordan. As usual, John is dressed in his camel hair robe. Jesus is standing in the river, with water up to his waist. An angel holds his robe. From heaven God sends a beam of light and a white pigeon.

In order to make sure the viewer identifies it as a river and not as a path in the forest, a number of fish are swimming in the water.

The unknown maker of this panel knew little of perspective. But the panel, and the polyptych it is part of, are of importance to the history of art. It is one of the first known works where oil paint is applied, even before the Flemish primitives made fame with that paint. The translucent qualities of oil paint can be seen in the river.

Apart from oil and tempera, the artist also used gold leaf.

This polyptych with four panels is an example of early Netherlandish art. It is presumed to be made in the region around Maastricht and Cologne. The patron is thought to be Philip the Bold, then duke of Burgundy. One of the wings and of the two central panels are in Baltimore, the others are in Museum Mayer van den Bergh in Antwerp.

Left wing (Baltimore): Annunciation (front) and Baptism of Jesus (back).
Left central panel (Antwerp): Birth of Jesus.
Right central panel (Baltimore): Crucifixion.
Right wing (Antwerpen): Resurrection (front) and St. Christopher (back).

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