This altarpiece was originally painted for the chapel on the left side of Viseu Cathedral, dedicated to St. John the Baptist.
In the Baptism of Christ, the composition was structured around the two monumental figures in the foreground, since the surrounding space, despite serving the narrative structure, was rigorously conceived to accommodate these imposing presences. The two rocky volumes, the patches of vegetation, the architectural background and the presence of the two secondary formal groups – the angels with Christ’s robe, and the Baptist preaching in the desert – were programmed with a rhythmic sense of balance, between the right half and the left half of the space of the representation, defining two diagonals that converge on the figure of Christ, placed in the central axis. But it is by removing the main formal group from the centre, with the monumental figure of the saint being placed in the left half, that the position and scale of the secondary figurations are defined, i.e. their distancing from the scene taking place on the left, whilst the two angels on the right are brought relatively closer together.
The powerful characterisation of the faces, here afforded a pathos that reinforces the spiritual importance of the act, the apparent softness of the fabrics, modelled through the light projected onto the figurative field from the left, and the atmospheric effects of the landscape, diluting the outlines of the architectural volumes in the background, are other characteristic features of his painting style.
However, in comparison to St. Peter, it can be said that the Baptism of Christ is a much less careful painting as far as the forms are concerned. In fact, while the body of Christ shows some significant but well disguised mistakes in terms of its form, the bent leg of St. John the Baptist, because of the distortion that it introduces into the pictorial work of the foot, results in an almost aberrant form. It is quite probable that Gaspar Vaz, Vasco Fernandes’ customary collaborator, worked on the pictorial aspects of this altarpiece.
In the predella, which was exchanged with the one belonging to the painting of St. Peter, are representations of the busts of St. Paul the Hermit (?), St. Jerome and St. Anthony. Dalila Rodrigues