(b. 1449, Firenze, d. 1494, Firenze)

Baptism of Christ

Fresco, width 450 cm
Cappella Tornabuoni, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

On the third level there are two frescoes, side by side, that deal with the mission of Saint John the Baptist. In the picture on the right he is preaching, and in the next picture he is baptizing Christ. The same landscape is continued through both scenes, linking them to one another.

The sixth scene of the cycle depicts the Baptism of Christ. This story shows, "... his reverential attitude displaying the belief which he had in that sacrament, and... he represented a crowd of naked and bare-footed figures waiting to be baptised, their faces displaying faith and desire, one especially who is taking off his shoe being energy itself" (Vasari).

The Baptism of Christ is an emulation of the painting by Verrocchio and Leonardo in the Uffizi, though the angels and landscape are far weaker. There is a very old-fashioned feeling about the depiction of God the Father, who is giving His blessing surrounded by angels.

In this painting the artist was interested less in depicting the baptism than in displaying variation of the nude figure. These were inspired both by Masaccio's frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel and also by classical sculpture. As early as the 1440s, in Piero della Francesca's Baptism of Christ, a magnificent nude figure had been depicted in the act of undressing. Piero's arrangement of the main figures also influenced of the version of the Baptism by Verrocchio and Leonardo.