National Gallery of Art, Widener Collection

A stormy wilderness provides the setting for this painting of Jesus’ baptism by Paris Bordone. Influenced both by his teacher Titian and by Michelangelo, the 16th-century Venetian artist depicts the baptism as an intensely private act. The tranquil expressions on the faces of John, of the angel on the bank, and of Jesus as he stands in the Jordan River, contrast with the physical tension plainly reflected in the glowing musculature of their bodies and with the drama in heaven whose vaults are drawn open by cherubim. Although Bordone included an angel in his artistic retelling of the baptism story, nowhere in the Gospel accounts is an angel mentioned.