Saturday, 11 January 2014


This picture of the Baptism of Christ by Fra Angelico has great depth to it. Beyond the sweep of the river and the horizon the clouds form a kind of tunnel, through which the Holy Spirit is entering into the world. It is as though everything comes from here. The Baptist is dark, as though in shadow ("I must decrease..."), and the Saviour is light – the brightest thing in the picture, glowing by his own radiance, and at the same time illuminated by the Holy Spirit. The Baptist is pouring water from a golden bowl, like the river that flows over Christ's feet and the light that flows over his head – the Upper and Lower Waters of Genesis, the Upper Waters coming directly from heaven and the Lower following a winding path through the hills.

Angels and human beings (with the Virgin Mary and St Dominic representing the saints) await the outcome of the Baptism, which is the renewal of all things. For the moment, the new creation is held between the hands of Christ. These hands are pressed together in a symbol of peace precisely at his heart. The Sacred Heart will be pierced on the Cross to allow the Church to be born in blood and water, and the hands will be spread wide. In the painting the figure of Christ is facing us, so the whole image is oriented towards the viewer. We are challenged to respond with prayer, to enter into the biblical scene ourselves, and so to become part of the mystery.

This painting is beautifully reproduced and discussed in the January issue of Magnificat (see "Art Essay of the Month").

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