Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Baptism of Jesus

Title: Baptism of Jesus

Artist: Unknown

Medium: Mosaic

Size: 210 cm diameter

Date: c. 500 AD

Location: Ravenna, Italy

The Baptistery in Ravenna, Italy was erected by the Arian Ostrogothic King Theodoric the Great toward the end of the 5th century or the beginning of the 6th century. In 565, after the condemnation of the Arian cult, this small octagonal brick structure was converted into a Catholic oratory named Santa Maria. Within the baptistery are four niches and a dome with mosaics, depicting the baptism of Jesus by Saint John the Baptist.

Jesus is shown beardless and naked, half-submerged in the Jordan. On the right, John the Baptist is depicted wearing a leopard skin while on the left stands a pagan god in the guise of a white-haired, old man. He is the personification of the river Jordan. Above, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove sprays lustral water from its beak. As described in Matthew 3:16: “And having been baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water, and lo, opened to him were the heavens, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him,”

The intricate work covering the dome of the baptistery appears to have taken the artists several years to complete as can be clearly seen from the different colors of the stones used to depict grass in the mosaic.

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