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The Baptism of Christ
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This image is available for download, without charge, under the Getty's Open Content Program.

Simon Bening
Flemish, Bruges, about 1525 - 1530
Tempera colors, gold paint, gold leaf, and ink on parchment
6 5/8 x 4 1/2 in.
MS. LUDWIG IX 19, FOL. 58V

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As described in Matthew's Gospel, the heavens opened at Christ's baptism and the spirit of God descended as a dove. While still including accidental details of nature such as the irregular formations of rock and the reflections in the water, Simon Bening used elements of the story to create a precisely planned geometric composition. The stream of water flowing from John the Baptist's hand, the central ray emanating from the dove, and the tall thin tree at the right form a series of defining verticals within the miniature. The reeds in the bottom right corner curve in a way that echoes the circular ripples in the water around Christ and the curving banks of the river. The golden water, which reflects the light of the Holy Ghost, reveals Bening's great sensitivity as a naturalistic artist treating a sacred theme.