UNFINISHED: The Baptism of Christ by Jacopo Bassano (Jacopo da Ponte) Italian (ca. 1590)

Within the galaxy of the great Venetian artists, perhaps one of the least known and barely appreciated is Jacopo Bassano – the author of some of the most astonishing arts of the sixteenth century Renaissance. Also known as Jacopo dal Ponte, he was born in 1510 (ca.) in a quaint Italian village called Bassano near Venice. Influenced by the other Venetian veterans including Lorenzo Lotto, Titian, Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese, Bassano’s brush with punctilious precision came to combine the natural beauty of the ordinary with the extraordinary play of light that overshadowed gracefully choreographed figures within a well-understood native narrative.

His innovative mind and tender heart resonates through today’s painting titled ‘The Baptism of Christ’. Bassano executed this work at the ripe old age of eighty years. When he passed away in 1592, this composition remained ‘unfinished’ or ‘non-finito’, spelling out a story that defies the viewer’s expectation while encouraging introspection. It invites the observer to complete what is lacking in the established form of ‘finished’ through interpretation.

Unlike popular depictions, Bassano’s ‘Baptism of Christ’ presents no brilliant sunshine, nor the open heavens or the cheery celebration of the commencement of Christ public ministry. Rather we encounter deep shrilling darkness filled with mystery and premonition. As a new dawn breaks upon the periphery of the canvas, we are drawn to the touch of white that descends down the unending heavens in the form of a dove.

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