Lorenzo and Jacopo Salimbeni, The Baptism of Jesus, from The Life of John the Baptist

Oratory of St. John the Baptist, Urbino, Italy

As usual in such images in this period, Jesus stands knee-deep in the Jordan while John pours water on him from a small bowl. The scriptural sources for the image are Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, and Luke 3:21-22. John's camel-hair tunic and leather belt are from Mark 1:6; the toga-like outer garment is a common if unbiblical addition. The scroll reads ECCE ANGUS, a misspelling of the first words of John's remark on seeing Jesus: Ecce agnus Dei, qui tollit peccata mundi ("Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world," John 1:29).

On the left St. Peter (square beard) as head of the apostles holds the towel that in many other images of Christ's baptism is proffered by angels. He and the others are dressed in apostolic-era garments, while the men on the right wear contemporary garb. Thus the baptism is taken out of sequential time and placed in the context of an eternity embracing the entire communion of saints.

To the conventional dove, the artists have added a band the color of halos that reaches from the Father to the Son. This addition may reflect John's remark in Matthew 3:11 that Jesus "shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and fire," or by joining Father and Son it may reflect the teaching that "Jesus' baptism effected union with God" (Jensen 10).

View all the panels in the Life of John the Baptist.
Read more about images of the baptism of Jesus and of St. John the Baptist.

Photograph by Quino Arnau