The Baptism of Christ (Verrocchio and Leonardo)

The Baptism of Christ is a painting finished around 1475 in the studio of the Italian Renaissance painter Andrea del Verrocchio and generally ascribed to him and his pupil Leonardo da Vinci. Some art historians discern the hands of other members of Verrocchio's workshop in the painting as well.

The Baptism of Christ
Verrocchio, Leonardo da Vinci - Battesimo di Cristo.jpg
ArtistAndrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci
TypeOil on wood
Dimensions177 cm × 151 cm (70 in × 59 in)
LocationUffizi Gallery, Florence

The picture depicts the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist as recorded in the Biblical Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. The angel to the left is recorded as having been painted by the youthful Leonardo, a fact which has excited so much special comment and mythology, that the importance and value of the picture as a whole and within the œuvre of Verrocchio is often overlooked. Modern critics also attribute much of the landscape in the background to Leonardo as well.[1] The painting is housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Subject matterEdit

The picture depicts the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan River. There are two kneeling angels, one holding Jesus’s garment, and the other with its hands folded, both in front of the symbolization of salvation and life, the palm tree.[2] While barefoot in the river, John the Baptist is clothed in robes with a halo over his head. He is holding a staff with a gold cross at the top as he pours the river water on Jesus’s head.[2] Jesus has a halo over his head as he is depicted praying barefoot in the river. He has a small garment covering his genitals with visible pubic hair peeking through.[2] There is an inscription on the scroll that John has by his hand which includes the first two words of a passage from John 1:29, "ECCE AGNUS DEI QUI TOLLIT PECCATA MUNDI" ("Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world"). [3] There is also a bright-eyed raptor that swoops down over the head of John and into the trees in the background. God’s hands can be seen at the top of the painting coming from heaven as it opens up.[2] A dove and rays of sunlight shine through which symbolize the holy spirit shining above them revealing Jesus's divine nature.[2]


Andrea del Verrocchio was a sculptor, goldsmith and painter who ran a large and successful workshop in Florence in the second half of the 15th century.[4] Verrocchio trained his apprentices by having them study surface anatomy, drawing, mechanics, sculpting, drapery studies, and the use of light and shade.[5] He also introduced his students to subjects such as geography, Italian literature, and poetry.[5] Verrocchio was known to set aside zones in his works for his apprentices to sketch on and eventually paint after he began them.[6] Among his apprentices and close associates were the painters Botticelli, Francesco Botticini, Piero Perugino, Francesco di Simone, Lorenzo di Credi and Leonardo da Vinci.[7][6][8]

Verrocchio was not himself a prolific painter and very few pictures are attributed to his hand, his fame lying chiefly in his sculptured works. Verrocchio's paintings, as are typical of Florentine works of that date, are in tempera on wooden panel. The technique of painting artworks in oil paint, previously used in Italy only for durable items like parade shields, was introduced to Florence by Dutch and Flemish painters and their imported works at around the date that this painting was created.

According to Antonio Billi (1515), the painting was commissioned by Verrocchio's brother Don Simone, the head of the monastic Church of San Salvi around 1468.[9][10] Verrocchio painted the general landscape along with Christ and St. John early in his career.[11] Another contributor to the central landscape area was one of Verrocchio's assistants, Francesco Botticini.[6] Subsequently, Verrocchio's pupil Leonardo da Vinci was asked to paint an angel in his master's composition. It is probable that Leonardo painted much of the background landscape as it is painted in oil, like the angel, while the rest of the painting is in tempera.[12] According to Giorgio Vasari, who discussed this work in his Lives of both Verrocchio and Leonardo, Leonardo's angel and understanding of colors was so impressive that Verrocchio quit painting.[2][6][8][12] Vasari did not personally know Leonardo, so the veracity of these stories is unknown,[13] although Verrocchio's painting output seems to have ceased abruptly, with his last known painted work being the Virgin and Child with Two Angels, which he passed on to his assistant Lorenzo di Credi to complete.[6]

William E. Wallace proposes that after Leonardo's creation of the first angel, Verrocchio added the second angel to accompany Leonardo's.[11] Wallace concludes that Verrocchio's guidizio dell'occhio ("true eye") caught the need for this angel to be added to the right to rebalance the composition. Most Italian paintings from the 14th and 15th centuries of this religious subject include two or more angels.[14] According to more recent technical analysis, Verrocchio began this altarpiece around 1468, which was then put aside for some years before Leonardo reworked portions of the painting's surface in the 1470s.[15]


The painting was at some point transferred from the Church of San Salvi to the Vallombrosan Sisterhood in Santa Verdiana.[9][10][verification needed] In 1810, it entered the collection of the Accademia and passed to the Uffizi in 1959.[10]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e f Zöllner, Frank (2000). Leonardo da Vinci, 1452–1519. Taschen. pp. 14–15. ISBN 9783822859797.
  3. ^ Soria, Martin (1960). "Murillo's Christ and St. John the Baptist". The Art Institute of Chicago Quarterly. 54 (2): 12–14 (3 pages). JSTOR 4119874 – via JSTOR.
  4. ^ Ilan Rachum, The Renaissance: an Illustrated Encyclopedia, 1979, ISBN 0-7064-0857-8
  5. ^ a b Isaacson, Walter (2018). Leonardo da Vinci. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. pp. 32–56. ISBN 9781501139161.
  6. ^ a b c d e Dunkerton, Jill (2011). "Leonardo in Verrocchio's Workshop: Re-examining the Technical Evidence". National Gallery Technical Bulletin. 32: 4–31. JSTOR 42616226 – via JSTOR.
  7. ^ Passavant, Günter. "Andrea del Verrocchio: Italian painter and sculptor". Britannica.
  8. ^ a b Vasari, Giorgio (1998). The Lives of the Artists. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. pp. 232–241. ISBN 9780191605482.
  9. ^ a b Dempsey, Charles (2019). Sculptor and Painter of Renaissance Florence. Princeton University Press. p. 76. ISBN 9780691183367.
  10. ^ a b c Angela Ottino della Chiesa, The Complete Paintings of Leonardo da Vinci, Penguin, (1967) ISBN 978-0-14-008649-2
  11. ^ a b Masters in Art: A Series of Illustrated Monographs. Boston, MA: Bates and Guild Company. 1905.
  12. ^ a b Wallace, Robert (1966). The World of Leonardo: 1452–1519. New York: Time-Life Books. p. 27–28.
  13. ^ Dunkerton, Jill (2011). "Leonardo in Verrocchio's Workshop: Re-examining the Technical Evidence". National Gallery Technical Bulletin. 32: 4–31. JSTOR 42616226 – via JSTOR.
  14. ^ Wallace, William (1995). "Verrocchio's "Giudizio dell'occhio"". Source: Notes in the History of Art. 14 (2): 7–10 (4 pages). doi:10.1086/sou.14.2.23205625. JSTOR 23205625. S2CID 192981208 – via JSTOR.
  15. ^ Dunkerton, Jill (2011). "Leonardo in Verrocchio's Workshop: Re-examining the Technical Evidence". National Gallery Technical Bulletin. 32: 6. JSTOR 42616226 – via JSTOR.

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