The Baptism of Christ

Artist: Jacopo Bassano (Jacopo da Ponte) (Italian, Bassano del Grappa ca. 1510–1592 Bassano del Grappa)

Date: ca. 1590

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 75 1/2 x 63 1/8 in. (191.8 x 160.3 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Partial and Promised Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch, 2012

Accession Number: 2012.99


This extraordinary picture—deeply expressive and almost unique in showing the Baptism of Christ as occurring late at night—is the last known work by the great Venetian painter Jacopo Bassano, who left it unfinished when he died in 1592. It was viewed by his heirs as his artistic testament and was retained by them for more than a century. To our eyes, the altarpiece’s unfinished (non finito) style seems a crucial step towards modernism, to be compared with, for example, Goya's "black paintings." Bassano explores an expressive intensity—dark in mood as in the palette—that is a direct and deeply personal response to Titian's late pictures. He interprets the baptism of Christ not as a sunny event in a pastoral landscape but as the tragic opening of Christ's Passion.