Master Radovan
The Baptism of Jesus

Mid-13th century
West tympanum, Cathedral of St. Lawrence, Trogir, Croatia

Usually in Western images John the Baptist is seen pouring water over Jesus, but here he presses Jesus' head with his left hand, as if for immersion, while his right makes a blessing gesture. Also missing are the Father and the dove. In the space they could occupy, an angel waves a censer, while another angel on the left holds Jesus' outer garment.

Considering the position of John's hand, it is possible that the piled-up look of the water is intended to mimic the kind of vessel in which candidates for Christian baptism were immersed (and still are, in the Orthodox churches). But more likely it refers to the statement in the commentaries that when Jesus entered the Jordan it "turned back and stopped flowing, rising up in a heap."1 The piled-up water is also seen in this mosaic in the Palatine Chapel's Baptism of Christ and this relief in a Swiss museum.

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Photographed at the site by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

1 Jensen, 12-13. Jensen cites Cyril of Jerusalem, On the Words 'Incarnate' and 'Made Man', ¶15 and others.