|The Baptism of Christ
The iconography of the Baptism of Christ was fairly stable for about a thousand years, and even after that artists still stayed with more or less the same arrangement of figures. On the left we see a 6th-century image from Palestine with all the features that will be repeated in countless versions.Jesus stands naked in the River Jordan while John the Baptist extends his hand to pour water from a cup over his head. Angels stand on the opposite bank with clothing for him. Observers stand behind the Baptist. Above Jesus we see a dove and above that a representation of the Father, in this case a hand pointing to Jesus.
The tradition allows some latitude in the matter of props and clothing. Usually John the Baptist wears animal skins and uses a shell for a cup (example), but often he has a more formal outergarment over the skins, perhaps reflecting the liturgical solemnity of the occasion (example). Sometimes the angels' garments also suggest liturgical garb (example). Often we see Jesus in a perizoma rather than simply naked (example). In later works it is sometimes the bystanders who are naked and/or undressing as they prepare for their own baptisms (example).
The Father can be represented either directly as a pointing hand or a kingly figure in the sky (example) or in some abstract fashion such as the turbulent sky in El Greco's 1568 version.
Feast day: January 13 (before Vatican II)
At left, detail from the Sancta Sanctorum Icon