Baptism of Christ

Giovanni di Paolo (Italian, 1403-1482)
early 1450s
Tempera and gold leaf on panel 
30 x 13-3/8 in. (76.2 x 34.0 cm) 
Credit Line:
The Norton Simon Foundation 
Accession Number:
© 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.


(Sale, Paris, Palais Galliera, 27 March 1971, lot 16, ill., as Sienese School, 15th century, Le baptême du Christ, to);
[David Carrit, Artemis, through;]
[E. V. Thaw and Co., New York; sold 1973 to;]
The Norton Simon Foundation.

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