Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Tempera on wood
180 x 152 cm
Andrea del Verrocchio, originally known as Andrea di Michele Cione, was born in Florence in 1435. He was trained as a goldsmith under the guidance of Francesco di Luca Verrocchio, who was a very rich and successful goldsmith. He adopted this name and started to develop his artistic skill. In addition to metalworking, Verrocchio was very talented in painting and sculpture. His multi-talented nature is a typical characteristic of the “Renaissance Man.” He is most well known for his brilliant sculpture in his works of marble, terracotta, silver and bronze. He established his own workshop, and became especially popular with the Medici. Verrocchio influenced artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Perugino, Ghirlandaio, and Botticelli, who eventually became famous themselves. His early Florentine Renaissance style demonstrates a taste for simplicity. He often liked to depict scenes in the hour of twilight, where the trees stand out in black against a light gray heavenly sky. His depiction of figures with qualities of delicateness and grace was his signature. After a successful career, Verrocchio died in Venice in 1488.
Verrocchio’s Baptism of Christ was completed with the assistance of Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci is responsible for the landscape in the background and the blonde angel on the left. The involvement of Leonardo da Vinci as a young apprentice helps make this particular work so famous. God’s outstretched hands come down from the sky at the top of the canvas. A dove is descending from God’s hands, symbolizing the Holy Spirit. This shows God’s acceptance of Jesus after this act of obedience and acknowledges Jesus as part of the Trinity. Christ is placed at the center, and exemplifies grace and humbleness. His hands are placed in a praying position. This work features Verrocchio’s preference for simplicity in composition. It also depicted during dusk, with a misty gray sky. The figures stand out against the dreary background.
This work was completed during the Early Renaissance. The Renaissance was a cultural change throughout Europe and served as a bridge between the medieval and modern ages. Artists sought inspiration from classical Greek and Roman art. This was considered the golden age to the Italians, because this new era was superior to anything since the fall of the Roman Empire. The Renaissance, literally meaning “rebirth”, was a recalling of classical antiquity in painting, sculpture, music, poetry and architecture. The birth of the Italian Renaissance began in the Tuscany region, and Florence in particular. The Medici were highly influential patrons of the Early Renaissance, mainly due to their high stature and social standing in Europe. The majority of artworks produced during this era depicted important religious events, specifically involving Christ.
This piece was different than the majority of the other baptism depictions. John the Baptist and Christ are on the same plane. Christ is placed at the center as usual. I thought it was interesting that John the Baptist’s chest looks very skeleton-like. I think it could be purposeful to exaggerate his human qualities. Christ has a very ideal figure, which is common in Renaissance works.
… and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (NIV)