Temple Gallery

Established 1959

Baptism of Christ - exhibited at the Temple Gallery, specialists in Russian icons

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VV005. Baptism

Russian, Palekh School in a finely wrought brass frame
19th century
17.5 x 14 cmClick here to convert metric size to imperial

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Our icon follows the traditional imagery already fully developed in iconography by the 6th century. Christ stands in the centre of the panel in water representing the River Jordan. On the left St John the Baptist stands over Christ with a gesture of blessing, while on the right we see three angels, their hands covered with cloth - an ancient symbol denoting reverence towards sacred objects or people. Above a descending ray contains the Holy Spirit in the figure of a dove (see below). The ray emanates from a sphere representing the celestial realm which is enclosed by a luminous cloud, a scriptural symbol of God's manifestation (e.g. Exod. 13:21; Matt. 17:5). Within the sphere, God the Father is depicted in half-length and blessing the scene.

The main narrative derives from the account of Christ's baptism in the Synoptic Gospels. For example, in the Gospel of Mark:

And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: and there came a voice from heaven saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Mark 1:10-11)

The angels are not mentioned in the New Testament texts, but are included from the divine service of the day.[1] The key traditional theological interpretation of the event is that the narrative signifies the manifestation (epiphany) of the Holy Trinity on Earth, and the introduction of the sacrament of Baptism.[2] In addition, at the top of the mountainous terrain on the left-hand side a single tree grows from the rocks (see detail below) - in icons this symbolises the resurrection,[3] which, according to St Paul, the Baptism of Christ anticipates (e.g. see Rom. 6:1-5).

The warm, earthy colours, intense luminosity and use of flickering light that characterises the current version suggest that it was created in the Palekh region in the 19th century. However, the quality of the faces - round features, strong warm glowing light on the flesh and black dots for eyes - indicate that it continues a tradition that originated in 18th century icons. If we compare, for instance, our work with other objects from this time we can see the similarities (see fig's a and b).

The brass frame with floral patterns, which is contemporary with the icon, perfectly complements the image.

Fig. a. All the Earth Does Worship Thee, Palekh, late 18th century,

Fig. b. St George and the Dragon, Russian, circa 1750, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

1. See Lossky & Ouspensky, Meaning of Icons, p.164
2. Ibid.
3. See Alfredo Tradigo [ed.], Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church, (Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 2006), p. 147

Detail Images