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Adam Elsheimer, The Baptism of Christ

Key facts
Full title The Baptism of Christ
Artist Adam Elsheimer
Artist dates 1578 - 1610
Date made about 1599
Medium and support Oil on copper
Dimensions 28.1 × 21 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by Henry Wagner, 1924
Inventory number NG3904
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Baptism of Christ
Adam Elsheimer

Christ is shown bending down in the River Jordan as Saint John baptises him, pouring water over his head. An angel and two cherubs carry a red cloth to wrap around Christ after his baptism. The sky has opened up to reveal the intense light of heaven where the bearded figure of God the Father is surrounded by cherubs. According to the Gospel, God declared: ‘This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3: 17). The Holy Ghost, represented as a dove, descends from heaven through a circle of naked winged cherubs.

This work is thought to have been painted during the artist’s stay in Venice from 1598 to 1600. The vibrant colours, the dramatic use of light as a way of reinforcing the narrative and the dynamic movement of the figures creating a zig-zag type of composition reflect the works of his Venetian contemporaries, particularly Tintoretto and Veronese.

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