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Renaissance Revolution 03 - Piero della Francesca - Baptism of Christ

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Renaissance Revolution
Piero della Francesca

Baptism of Christ

The Baptism of Christ is a painting by the Italian Renaissance master Piero della Francesca, finished around 1448-1450. It is housed in the National Gallery, London. The panel was commissioned by the Camaldolese abbey of Sansepolcro (Tuscany), originally part of a triptych. Its dating to Piero della Francesca's early career is evidenced by the strong relationship with the "light painting" of his master, Domenico Veneziano. It portrays Christ being baptised by John, his head surmounted by a dove representing the Holy Spirit. Christ, John's hand, the bird and the bowl form an axis which divides the painting in two symmetrical parts. A second division is created by the tree on the left, which instead divides it according to the golden ratio.

The three angels on the left wear different clothes and, in a difference from the traditional iconography, are not supporting Christ's garments, but are holding each other's hands. This would be an allusion to the contemporary council of Florence (1439), whose goal was the unification of the Western and Eastern Churches. The Camaldolese Ambrogio Traversari was in fact a strong supporter of the union. Such symbolism would be also confirmed by the presence, behind the neophyte on the right, of figures dressed in an oriental fashion.

Piero della Francesca was renowned in his times as an authority on perspective and geometry: his attention to the theme is shown by John's arm and leg, which form two angles of the same size.

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