32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
When trying to find something that would best illustrate this Gospel passage I turned to the world's center of Christian art: Italy. Every chapel, every church, every cathedral is covered with art created at a time when the most important theme for any artist was God.
This sculpture, with the sunlight reaching down and touching Jesus, was Sunday's illustration: The Baptism of Christ by sculptors Andrea Sansovino, Vincenzo Danti and Innocenzo Spinazzi, in marble, 1502-1505. It is in the Opera del Duomo in Florence, Italy.
There are two copies of these sculptures. This one in the Baptistry of San Giovanni in the Opera del Duomo, Florence. The first set is installed over the Doors to Paradise on the Baptistry.
In this scene, Jesus is baptized by aspersion; he is standing on the bank of the Jordan and John pours water only on his head. Whereas many artists depict his baptism by immersion in which he is naked but hidden by the water, with the aspersion he has to be clothed. Baptism by immersion means he is plunged whole into the Jordan or into a bath. This corresponds to the practice of ancient Christianity and to the meaning of the Greek verb “baptizein” which means “to plunge”.
The Florence Baptistery is one of the oldest buildings in the city, constructed between 1059 and 1128 in the Florentine Romanesque style. The Baptistry is renowned for its three sets of artistically important bronze doors with relief sculptures. The south doors were done by Andrea Pisano and the north and east doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti. The east doors were dubbed by Michelangelo the "Gates of Paradise".
The present much larger Baptistry was built in Romanesque style around 1059, evidence of the growing economic and political importance of Florence. It was reconsecrated on 6 November 1059 by Pope Nicholas II, a Florentine. According to legend, the marbles were brought from Fiesole, conquered by Florence in 1078. Other marble came from ancient structures. The construction was finished in 1128.
An octagonal lantern was added to the pavilion roof around 1150. It was enlarged with a rectangular apse on the west side in 1202. On the corners, under the roof, are monstrous lion heads with a human head under their claws. Between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, three bronze double doors were added, with bronze and marble statues above them. This gives an indication that the Baptistry, at that time, was at least equal to the neighboring cathedral in importance.
The exterior is also ornamented with a number of artistically significant statues by Andrea Sansovino (above the Gates of Paradise), Giovan Francesco Rustici, Vincenzo Danti (above the south doors) and others.
The "Gates of Paradise" situated in the Baptistry are a copy of the originals, substituted in 1990 to preserve the panels after over five hundred years of exposure and damage. To protect the original panels for the future, the panels are being restored and kept in a dry environment in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, the museum of the Duomo's art and sculpture. Some of the original panels are on view in the museum..