"My temperament compels me to look for and take pleasure in well-ordered things. I avoid confusion, which is contrary and opposed to my nature, just as light is opposed to the darkness of night," wrote Nicolas Poussin.
Saint John baptizes the multitudes in an ideal landscape, framed by a tree trunk on each side. Clothed in antique costumes, the orderly followers have arranged themselves into a carefully balanced frieze. As always, Poussin approached this religious work from the tradition of order, clarity, and harmony associated with the art of ancient Greece and Rome.
Poussin painted this religious scene for one of his key patrons, Roman antiquarian and scientist Cassiano dal Pozzo. Also in the 1630s, Poussin painted a series of the Seven Sacraments for Cassiano, to which this canvas may be related.