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Baptism of Christ, early 1450s

Giovanni di Paolo

Italian, 1403-1482
Tempera and gold leaf on panel
30 x 13-3/8 in. (76.2 x 34.0 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
© The Norton Simon Foundation

On view

The Baptism of Christ belongs to a narrative cycle depicting the life of Saint John the Baptist. The vertical proportions of this and the other eleven surviving panels suggest that they may have formed part of a custodia, or cupboard that contained a sacred relic. By the late nineteenth century, the ensemble had been separated; the panels can now be found in museums across the United States and Europe.

The Simon panel’s composition is an abstracted and hierarchical arrangement. Christ stands in the Jordan river, its banks extending slightly beyond him. The plane of water and land and the row of attendant angels incline steeply toward the golden rays of light, above which God the Father gives his blessing. Giovanni di Paolo’s love of detail and pattern is everywhere evident. His tight, linear drawing creates a tension that, in combination with the sacred narrative, presents a scene of magic and mystery.

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