- Reference number
- El Greco
- The Baptism of Christ
- 1597 - 1600
- 350 cm x 144 cm
- On display
- College of La Encarnación, also known as the College of Doña María de Aragón, Madrid, 1813; church of San Felipe el Real and House of the Inquisition, 1835; Royal Academy of San Fernando; Trinidad Museum
This evangelical episode is divided into two overlapping horizontal zones joined by the dove, which symbolizes the Holy Ghost. On the earthly plane, Christ, nude but for his loincloth, is framed by a red cloak, which is the liturgical color of sacrifice and martyrdom. On the right, Saint John the Baptist appears. He wears a camel skin and, next to him, there is an axe in a tree trunk, which alludes to one of his sermons: “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). This is part of a broadly used iconography depicting an axe standing among vegetation.
On the celestial plane, the Heavenly Father, rendered like a Byzantine Pantocrator alongside the entire angelical hierarchy, makes the event sacred. El Greco uses his customary language, with stylized forms and loose brushstrokes, obtaining an intensely spiritual expression.
The work was painted for the main altarpiece of the church of the Augustine College of María de Aragón in Madrid, as were other works at the Prado Museum (P00821, P00823, P00825, P03888).