(b. 1541, Candia, d. 1614, Toledo)

The Baptism

Oil on canvas, 350 x 144 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Painted for the high altar of the Colegio de Doña Maria, Madrid. The retable no longer exists, and the paintings are dispersed. The subjects of the paintings of the retable are not recorded, but it is assumed that they illustrated the Life of Christ. For reasons of size, style, and subject matter, the following paintings probably came from the retable: the Annunciation, the widest painting, in the centre (the church was dedicated to the Virgin of the Annunciation); the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Baptism of Christ, two paintings of the same size, on the left and right of the Annunciation; the Crucifixion above the Annunciation; and the Resurrection and Pentecost, another pair of identical size, flanking the Crucifixion (the whole forming a retable of a type known in the Escorial). Such an arrangement gives a chronological sequence to the events of the Life of Christ. The payment of 6000 ducados (for the paintings and retable) indicate a large commission. Small versions, probably models, exist for the three paintings more generally accepted as belonging to the retable, the Annunciation, the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Baptism of Christ.

Probably originally on the right of the retable of the Colegio de Doña María, balancing the Adoration of the Shepherds, and painted at the same time. A small version, possibly the model for the large painting, is in the Galleria Corsini, Rome. A later development of this subject, only treated once before, in the Modena Triptych, is the painting for the Hospital de San Juan Bautista, Toledo, probably completed after his death by Jorge Manuel. The pose of the Christ is related to that of the Saint Sebastian of c. 1580. The bipartite composition can be related to the Burial of the Count of Orgaz, the portraits giving place to the range of angels. The splendid ecstatic figure of the angel, between the Baptist and Christ, is one of a number of such symbols that he began to introduce into his painting. If his figures - the actual participants in the action - become increasingly dematerialised, these new symbols appear as emotions materialised in gesture and colour.