Baptism of Christ (Bellini)

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Baptism of Christ
Bellini, battesimo di cristo.jpg
ArtistGiovanni Bellini
Mediumtempera on panel
Dimensions400 cm × 263 cm (160 in × 104 in)
LocationChiesa di Santa Corona, Vicenza

Baptism of Christ is a tempera painting on panel by Giovanni Bellini, dating to 1500–1502, and now located in the Chiesa di Santa Corona in Vicenza. It is signed IOANNES / BELLINVS on a rock in the lower left.[1]

Description and style[edit]

The work is among the first produced by the artist to show an immersive tranquility of the figures in the space that surrounds them, across the light and atmosphere. These elements suggest that the painter was possibly helped by a young Giorgione, or perhaps another student close to Bellini, at least according to the information provided by Vasari.

The painting depicts the baptism of Christ in a fairly traditional composition, with Jesus at the center turned toward the viewer, while John the Baptist, at left,[2] baptizes him on a cliff and at right three angelic figures with gaudy dress (allegories of the three theological virtues) await.[3] On high, the figure of God the Father appears among cherubs and seraphim, which sends forth the dove of the Holy Spirit.

The three feminine figures are also recall the angelic figures that are placed at the side of the baptized Christ, in traditional icons. The gilt line of the early dawn on the bottom semantically marks the desired territory of the divine. The man who is not the ordered center of the universe commands but constitutes all that lives in harmony.[4]

Some have attributed the angel in red to the hand of Giorgione. The hut on high and to the right symbolizes the Old Testament; at left, on the summit of the hills, the castle symbolizes the New Testament.

As in traditional iconography, the water of the river stops at the feet of Christ, to avoid depicting his reflection (in icons, reflections aren't emitted from divine figures). Another symbolic element is the little red parrot, symbol of the Passion of Christ.

An extraordinary part of the altarpiece is the exceptional smoothness of tones that tie together the landscape and the sky, that muffles the surroundings of the enveloped figures, in a surprising anticipation of the tonalism that later paintings of Giorgione and Tiziano Vecellio would display. That same luminous modulation—now incidental, now tenuous, now little present—emphasizes the divine axis that goes from the sculptural figure of Jesus to the figure of eternity, that does not reflect his pose and appearance.

The landscape is ample and reposed. From the sky falls a warm light that suggests the valleys around the River Jordan. The wonderful result is a secure capture of the atmospheric perspective and the impasto-ed colors throughout. As has been said, "The colors obtain the density of a breath that comes from the depths". "The personalities, in natural dimensions, pull the spectator into the scene, miraculously in equilibrium between the spectacle of nature and the contemplation of mystery".[5]


  1. ^ Exhibition of the work
  2. ^ The descriptions in this article use proper right and proper left directions.
  3. ^ Il “Battesimo di Cristo” di Giovanni Bellini prestato dalla città di Vicenza alla mostra delle Scuderie del Quirinale dedicata al grande pittore veneziano – Comune di Vicenza
  4. ^ Chiesa di Santa Corona, Vicenza, Guida storico-artistica, Antiga edizioni, 2013, pag. 87.
  5. ^ it:Franco Barbieri e Renato Cevese, Vicenza, ritratto di una città, pag. 517, Angelo Colla editore, 2004.


  • Simona Ciofetta, Il "Battesimo di Cristo" di Giovanni Bellini in Santa Corona a Vicenza. Patronato e devozione privata, in "Venezia Cinquecento", 2, 1992, pp. 61–88. ISSN 1825-4799
  • Pierluigi De Vecchi ed Elda Cerchiari, I tempi dell'arte, volume 2, Bompiani, Milano 1999. ISBN 88-451-7212-0