The Baptism of Jesus

6th or late 5th century
Dome of the Arian Baptistery, Ravenna, Italy

The old man on the left signifies the River Jordan, in which a young Jesus, naked even below the waist, is baptized by John, who stands on the shore to the right.

The scene combines the moment of immersion, as John's right hand presses on Jesus' head, and the subsequent descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. The Father is represented by an elaborate throne to which the twelve Apostles are bringing their golden crowns, just as the elders bring theirs to the throne in Revelation 4:10-11. There is a straight line from the cross on that throne to the baptizing dove, perhaps suggesting the Arian doctrine that the Son is subsequent and subordinate to the Father. In the nearby Neonian Baptistery, built a few years later for an Orthodox congregation, there is no throne and it appears the Apostles are bringing their crowns to Jesus rather than to the Father. It may also be significant that the Neonian Jesus has a beard and a garment, which is held for him by the river personification. The Arian Jesus has neither.

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Detail of the throne
More of the Baptism of Christ

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