The Baptism of Christ

Byzantine, Early 1400s
Tempera and gold on wood
Metropolitan Museum

The motif of the dead men in the water can be found also in images of Noah's Flood. In both cases they respond to 1 Peter 3:18-21, which relates the flood to baptism and its victims to the "spirits that were in prison" to whom Christ would preach when he was "enlivened in the spirit," that is, resurrected. Thus this image brings together the whole set of scriptural meditations on the meaning of Baptism.

Above the central scene is a rather small dove descending from a Heaven represented by the half-ellipse at the top, where the Father sits enthroned behind half-open doors. The scene in the upper left pictures John 1:36, where "beholding Jesus walking, he [John] saith: Behold the Lamb of God."

The figures on the left are grouped around the Virgin Mary. The meaning of that scene and the parallel group on the right is not clear to me.

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