TINTORETTO
(b. 1518, Venezia, d. 1594, Venezia)

The Baptism of Christ

1579-81
Oil on canvas, 538 x 465 cm
Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice

The Baptism of Christ is on the side wall opposite to the entrance. In the painting the two protagonists are banished to the left and evoked by the beam of light that strikes the back of the kneeling Christ whose face is sunk in shadows. John the Baptist is also immersed in the shadow as he bends forward in the act of pouring the water from the river Jordan over the head of Christ.

Around the two main actors a wide open space is created. It is bounded on the right in the foreground by a steep rocky wing in whose deep shadow some spectators of the scene are undressing under the glance of the devout brother absorbed in prayer. On the left however, in the background beyond the river Jordan, those waiting for baptism throng together in line. They are depicted in an extraordinary sparkling of blobs of colour and of luminous reflections. Evoked with astonishing rapidity of touch, the procession seems to extend on both sides, with no break in continuity, against the thick curtain of trees and under the blanket of heavy, threatening storm clouds. The clouds of the sudden storm are actually raining Eucharistic wafers. These are gathered up in every available receptacle, even in a blanket hung to keep off the no-longer-shining sun.