El Greco (Domínikos Theotokópoulos; Heraklion 1541 – Toledo 1614)
Baptism of Christ


oil on canvas

111 x 47 cm

Palazzo Barberini

Inv: 1475

The Baptism of Christ must be read in conjunction to the Adoration of the shepherds as both of them were probably produced as preparatory sketches for a monumental altarpiece in the Church of the Incarnation, in Madrid. El Greco utilized vertical lines in order to confer on the composition a rising effect of elevation. It was commonplace to use vertical designs in the representation of the Baptism, in order to highlight the descent of the Holy Spirit. However, it is certainly unusual to use this compositional structure in the representation of the Adoration of the shepherds. Both paintings are spatially divided in two. On the lower it is represented the material world covered by an almost silvery light that emerges from God and the angels, rendered on a higher plane. The choices of composition, colour and light evidence the influence of the Venetian pictorial tradition on the artist, particularly that from Tintoretto even after his settlement in Spain.