Painted by Michele Tosini (called Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, 1503–1577) in 1565 at the height of his career in Florence, this work combines the baptism of Jesus (Luke 3:21) with the three temptations of Christ (Luke 4:1–9). It should be read in a counterclockwise direction. The temptation to turn stones into bread, on the right, shows a hunched-over devil in discussion with an attentive Christ. “Command these stones be made bread,” the tempter says to Christ. In the second temptation, directly above the baptism, the devil leads Christ up the mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world. Christ raises his right hand as if prepared to respond, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Tosini draws a contrast between Christ’s humility in the center of the painting toward John and his defiance of the devil. Christ and the devil stand on top of the dome of the Jerusalem Temple in the third temptation. The devil is suggesting that Christ throw himself down and be protected by the angels. Christ responds by raising his right hand in refusal.
In 1562, Benedictine monks commissioned Paolo Veronese to decorate the refectory at their monastery on the Venetian island of San Giorgio Maggiore. The monks contracted for a painting of monumental proportions (22 feet by 32½ feet) to cover the entire wall of their dining hall, creating the sense of extended space. The painting is inspired by the miracle of the wedding at Cana (John 2:1–11), but Veronese produced a scene that more resembles the festivities of a Venetian banquet than a wedding feast in ancient Galilee. More than 130 figures surround Christ, who is seated in the center next to Mary. They include princes, turbaned Orientals, and musicians. Nonetheless, there are significant echoes of the biblical account. In the foreground, on the viewer’s right, a servant pours wine into an ewer. A surprised nobleman, standing behind the servant, examines a glass of wine (John 2:9–10). Directly behind Christ in the background, a servant slices meat (an allusion to the “lamb” of God?). The painting hung in the refectory for more than two centuries until, in 1797, Napoleon’s troops confiscated it and (despite its size) shipped it to Paris.
In 1401, Lorenzo Ghiberti won the competition held by the Arte di Calimala, the guild of importers and finishers of woolen cloth, to decorate the north doors of the baptistery in Florence. Baptism of Christ was one of 28 panels depicting scenes from the life of Christ. The baptistery was an especially important building for the Florentines, because the patron saint of the city was John the Baptist. Ghiberti’s bronze panel, although still in a medieval quatrefoil shape, is considered one of the earliest examples of Italian Renaissance art. Ghiberti selected the moment in the narrative when Christ is praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove (Luke 3:21–22). Ghiberti portrayed the dove emerging out of the panel toward the viewer. This feature, along with the placement of Christ’s feet in the river believably covered by the water, is evidence of the advancements Italian Renaissance artists were making in depicting nature. Christ is posed in a stance used by classical Greek sculptors.
Christ Pantocrator means “all-powerful or Almighty Christ.” The Pantocrator image, which typically depicts Christ seated in enthroned glory, was (and is) especially popular in the Byzantine icon tradition. The Florentine artist Giusto de’ Menabuoi painted this Pantocrator in the Baptistery of the Duomo in Padua around 1375. Christ is depicted seated in power and judgment. Inscribed on the book in his left hand are the words Ego sum alpha et omega—“I am the Alpha and the Omega” (Rev. 1:8). In the book of Revelation it is God who speaks these words; here Christ has been elevated to an equal status with God.