Home > Art, Museums > Stopping in at the Met, Addendum

Stopping in at the Met, Addendum

Jacopo Bassano, The Baptism of Christ, Unfinished 1592, Oil on canvas

Gail has reminded me that in the post I just wrote on Stopping at the Met, I omitted one of the highlights of last Monday’s visit: Jacopo Bassano’s baptism of Christ. As we were working our way around the European paintings in order to see recently stored works by Filippino Lippi, Velasquez, and Hans Memling, our host suggested we also look at the Bassano, a relatively recent Met acquisition.

At first glance, as we entered the room, I imagined the painting to be a depiction of one of Christ’s stops along the Stations of the Cross, while Gail thought specifically that it looked like a deposition. The Met’s online catalogue entry makes the very same point:

Spectral figures of Christ, Saint John the Baptist, and three angels are shown in a nocturnal landscape. John leans forward and, turning back, baptizes Christ, who is also depicted leaning forward, as though shedding his scarlet robe. His tormented face expresses foreknowledge of his tragic destiny. The three angels serve as counterpoints: one, holding Christ’s robe, gazes at him ecstatically while a second angel looks upward, at the mystical apparition of a dove in the black sky. The horizon is lit by the rays of the setting sun.

This extraordinary picture—deeply expressive and unique in Renaissance painting for showing the Baptism of Christ as occurring at night—is the last known work by the great Venetian painter Jacopo Bassano, who left it unfinished when he died in 1592. It was viewed by his heirs as his artistic testament and was retained by them rather than completed and delivered, as would have been the normal practice. They evidently felt that, as in the case of Michelangelo’s and Titian’s unfinished works, the picture fully expressed Jacopo’s intentions. …

… Bassano here explores an expressive intensity—dark in mood as in palette—that is a direct and deeply personal response to Titian’s late pictures (in particular Titian’s two versions of the “Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence” and his unfinished “Pietà”, painted to decorate his own funerary chapel). The pose of Christ is as though taken from a “Way to Calvary” and this analogy must have been on Bassano’s mind.

It’s quite a powerful painting. Next time you’re at the Met, be sure to see it.

Categories: Art, Museums
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