WEYDEN, Rogier van der
(b. 1400, Tournai, d. 1464, Bruxelles)

St John Altarpiece (central panel)

Oil on oak panel, 77 x 48 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

The central panel depicts the Baptism of Christ. The main scene is accompanied by tiny figures in the arch moulding showing the Temptation of Christ and St John the Baptist preaching.

In the central scene, Christ, hierarchically the most important figure in the whole altarpiece, is brought as far forward as John the Baptist and the angels by the flatness of the painting, though he should be further back. The overlapping of figures is carefully avoided. Rogier paints an image of Christ, radiant and facing full front, which almost resembles an icon, while the figures to the side are set back from him. John, who is actually leaning to one side like the risen Christ in the right-hand panel of the Miraflores Altarpiece, appears much less three-dimensional than that figure, and his limbs are entirely two-dimensional. However, this attitude illustrates his action symbolically, and he is in harmony with the two-dimensional Christ, framed by the dark river as if in a mandorla.