The Baptism of Christ

Oil painting on canvas by a successor or contemporary emulator of Joachim Patinir. The painting has been cut into two halves and then put together again.

This painting shows an imaginary landscape containing two scenes from the life of John the Baptist. The landscapes include a large castle on the right, as seen by the beholder, and a town in the left-hand corner. In between there are a couple more castles and houses. The atmosphere of the landscape is bluish, which emphasises its religious character. At the same time there are people walking along the roads and a horseman is also visible, reflecting the continuance of everyday life in the midst of the divine narrative.

The scenes from the life of John the Baptist are incorporated in the wholeness of the landscape. To the left in the picture we see him preaching to a crowd of followers. This scene is set in a forest glade, which intensifies the mystique surrounding him and points to his prophetic mission. At the front of the painting, a little right of centre, we see Jesus being baptised by John. Jesus, wearing only a length of fabric wound round his hips, has stepped down into the river and is leaning forward in supplicatory pose. John the Baptist stands on the river bank, stretching out his arm to pour water over the head of Jesus. Overhead the Holy Spirit hovers in the form of a dove. The entire landscape, but especially the baptism, is watched over by God the Father, who, bearded and wearing a red robe, looks down from a cloud.

Landscape art acquired a strong position in the Netherlands during the 16th century. In contrast to preceding centuries, the landscape began to acquire intrinsic merit, instead of being just an appendage to Biblical or classical themes. Painting now takes on a wealth of detail which endows landscape with intrinsic value. An important part was played here by ”world landscapes”, which were first devised and presented by the Flemish painter Joachim Patinir.

This painting, following in his wake, as a typical ”world landscape”: the beholder looks out over a whole world extending far into the depth of the picture. At the same time it is this very completeness, together with the evocative blueness, which gives the picture an unreal, religious ambience. The painter’s knack of imaginatively producing a landscape which contemporaries found modern and combining it with scenes from the life of John the Baptist creates a magnificent panorama of God’s work.