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The Baptism of Christ: Main Tier Central Panel
Niccolò di Pietro Gerini
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It is rare to see images of the baptism of Christ at the centre of altarpieces and this is quite possibly the first example where it takes this position in Italian painting.

Christ stands in the centre of the river Jordan, naked but for a transparent loin cloth. He gazes directly at us, making a blessing gesture with the fingers of his right hand. The ease and stillness of Christ’s pose reinforces his majesty and authority in the centre of a scene full of movement. Saint John the Baptist reaches up on to his tiptoes to baptise him, pouring the river water over his head from a wooden bowl.

In the sky above, God the Father appears in the clouds, dispatching the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove towards Christ. Two angels on the left river bank look on – one holds a blue cloth with a gilded edge, ready to dry Christ.

Key facts
Artist Niccolò di Pietro Gerini
Artist dates documented 1368; died probably 1415, certainly by 1427
Full title The Baptism of Christ: Main Tier Central Panel
Group Baptism Altarpiece
Date made 1387
Medium and support Egg tempera on wood
Dimensions 160 x 76 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated and inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1857
Inventory number NG579.1
Location in Gallery Not on display
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Baptism Altarpiece

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This altarpiece is the earliest known example that shows the baptism of Christ as the central image – in large multi-panelled altarpieces it was usually the Virgin and Child.

It was made for a chapel in Santa Maria degli Angeli, the Camaldolese monastery in Florence. The chapel was dedicated to the feast commemorating Saint John the Baptist’s death, but the central panel depicts the key moment in his life: when he baptised Christ in the river Jordan.

The inscription tells us that it was commissioned by one of the monastery’s monks, Don Filippo Nerone Stoldi, in memory of his mother. The monastery contained many altarpieces commissioned by Florentine families, which served as memorials. One of the monks’ duties was to say prayers for the souls of the dead on days specified by the families.

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