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Francesco Zaganelli, The Visitation with the Baptism of Christ

Key facts
Full title The Visitation with the Baptism of Christ
Artist Francesco Zaganelli
Artist dates active 1499; died 1532
Series The Laderchi Altarpiece from San Domenico, Faenza
Date made 1514
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 200.7 × 190.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Bought, 1924
Inventory number NG3892.1
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Visitation with the Baptism of Christ
Francesco Zaganelli

This is the main panel of an altarpiece painted for the chapel of the Visitation in the church of S. Andrea in Vineis, Faenza. A scroll inscribed ‘Ecce Agnus Dei’ (‘Behold the Lamb of God’) is attached to the reed cross that Saint John the Baptist holds. The inscription refers to Christ, who will be sacrificed like a lamb for the salvation of humanity. John pours water from a bowl onto the head of Christ, who clasps his hands in prayer and accepts God’s will. The other Latin inscription, held by the hovering baby with the cloth, translates as: 'This is my beloved Son’ (Matthew 3: 17).

The scene on the left of women accompanied by angels represents the Visitation – the encounter between the pregnant Saint Elizabeth and her cousin the Virgin Mary. Elizabeth, pointing to the main scene of Christ’s baptism, shows Mary the future encounter of their unborn sons. Combining both episodes in one painting was very rare at this time.

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The Laderchi Altarpiece from San Domenico, Faenza


These two panel paintings formed the altarpiece for the Laderchi chapel in S. Andrea in Vineis, Faenza (the church was rebuilt in the eighteenth century and rededicated as S. Domenico). The main panel represents two episodes from the New Testament: the Visitation of the Virgin Mary to her cousin Saint Elizabeth, who was pregnant with Saint John the Baptist; and the baptism of Christ in the river Jordan by Saint John the Baptist. The lunette, or upper panel, shows the dead Christ sitting on his open tomb, supported by two angels.

On 9 April 1504, Giacomo di Francesco Laderchi dictated a will in which he ordained that after his death his brothers should spend 100 lire in adorning the chapel of the Visitation, which he had paid to have built in 1489. Given the prominence of John the Baptist in this altarpiece, his brother Giovanni Battista was probably most closely involved in the commission.