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Paris Bordone, Christ baptising Saint John Martyr

Key facts
Full title Christ baptising Saint John Martyr
Artist Paris Bordone
Artist dates 1500 - 1571
Date made about 1565
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 63.5 × 70.8 cm
Acquisition credit Layard Bequest, 1916
Inventory number NG3122
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Christ baptising Saint John Martyr
Paris Bordone

A young man kneels in a prison cell, wearing the robes and horned cap of a doge (the elected head of the Venetian state). On the ground are wooden stocks and heavy chains with manacles from which he has just been freed. Christ empties a cup over the young man’s bowed head. Two angels arrive holding towels and one carries a ceramic jug. Another angel with keys appears in the darkened arch to the right.

It was once thought that this painting showed Christ anointing a doge of Venice in prison. In fact, the young man is Neanias, a duke of Alexandria who later became Saint John, a Christian martyr. Neanias was made duke of Alexandria by the Emperor Diocletian and instructed to suppress the Christian community, but was instead converted to Christianity by a vision. However, his mother betrayed him and he was tortured and imprisoned. Christ appeared to Neanias in his cell, accompanied by angels. He baptised Neanias and gave him the name John.

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