Baptism of Christ
William Blake, English, Baptism of Christ, ca. 1799, Tempera over pen and ink on canvas, varnish; 32.4 x 49.2 cm (12 11/16 x 19 3/8 inches), Museum Appropriation Fund 32.219
This Baptism of Christ is one of the few works William Blake executed in tempera. Using a combination of animal glue and paint, Blake applied the medium in layers in order to imitate Renaissance glazing techniques. A fur-clad John the Baptist flanks the central figure of Christ, whose articulated torso indicates the artist’s vision of Christ as the ideal man. The surrounding individuals, representing the Ages of Man, possess more linear and stylized bodies. Blake was eclectic in his sources: he referenced to Renaissance forms and techniques while imposing a medieval, hieratic scale. Consistent in Blake’s creations was his focus on spirituality, which he depicted through the colorful radiance emanating from the host of angels above Christ and Saint John.