The scene depicts the baptism of Christ in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist. Christ is at the center of the composition with his feet in the water and his hands clasped in prayer. He is looking down while John pours water from a bowl on his head. Above him the hands of the Lord are sending the dove of the Holy Ghost. On the left, two angels are kneeling at the feet of Christ. One is looking at Jesus and smiling, while the other is turned away and looking at the other direction.
Behind the characters there is a river and mountainous landscape where Leonardo’s sfumato technique is already visible, which is also evident in the angel’s face.
The angel looking at Jesus and the Christ’s body are attributed to Leonardo as well as the landscape in the background, which was first painted in tempera and then oil.
According to Vasari Leonardo only painted the two angels, which made so great impression to Verrocchio that he gave up painting and dedicated himself only to sculpting and working as a goldsmith.
Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti speculated that the work would be originally made by some lesser known maestro, perhaps Domenico di Michelino and was then bought by Verrocchio for his workshop who then gave the work to one of his students, Botticini. He then passed the work to Botticelli who had left the Verrocchio’s workshop and he passed the painting to Leonardo.
It seems that Verrocchio has given the compositional layout to the work and partially painted the Christ and the Baptist before passing the work to his students, including perhaps Botticelli and Leonardo, who had the task to harmonize the painting with transparent glazes of oil, like in the figure of Christ whose features seem soft. The figure of John the Baptist still has the sharp edges and lines which were typical for Verrocchio.
There is a preparatory drawing with landscape signed and dated by Leonardo in 1473 (n. 89) and another one with the angels head, which is attributed to Verrocchio, which seems to confirm their collaboration with the work. The two drawings are kept in the Prints and Drawings department of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
The painting was commissioned to the San Salvi monastery in Vallombrosa, where it stayed until 1730 before it was move to the monastery of Santa Verdiana. During the Napoleonic suppressions in 1810 it was moved to Accademia di Belle Arti, then to Galleria dell’Accademia where it stayed until 1919 when it was passed to the Uffizi Gallery.
Verrocchio was born in Florence in 1436 and he got his nickname from his first master, goldsmith Giuliano del Verrocchio.
His first artistic activities were documented in 1461 when he presented a project to paint a chapel inside the Orvieto cathedral, competing with Desiderio da Settignano and Giuliano da Maiano. Verrocchio’s project didn’t win but he won another project two years later with the Incredulity of St. Thomas in Donatello’s tabernacle in the church of Orsannmichele. It was commissioned by the merchandise guild of Florence, which had trusted the decoration of the church to the most important artists of the city, such as Donatello, Nanni di Banco and Lorenzo Ghiberti.
In 1472 Verrocchio worked on the tomb of Giovanni and Piero de’ Medici in the Old Sacristy of San Lorenzo church and in 1577 he built the tomb of Francesca Pitti Tornabuoni (Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence and Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris). The same year he worked on the silver altar in the Florence Baptistery with the Beheading of St. John the Baptist (Florence, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo), which he completed in 1480. The work represented a style which later influenced Donatello and brothers Antonio and Piero del Pollaiolo, characterized by energetic lines that gave the characters mobility and expressiveness.
In the meantime Verrocchio had founded an important multifunctional workshop that reflected all his activities. He wasn’t just a goldsmith but also a painter, architect and sculptor, using terracotta (Resurrection, 1465, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence and Cherub, National Gallery of Washington) bronze (David, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Cherub with Dolphin, 1471, first in Medici Villa of Careggi and now in the courtyard of Palazzo Vecchio) and marble (Monument for Cardinal Forteguerri, finished by his students, Pistoia Cathedral).
Many famous artists practised in his workshop, such as Pietro Perugino, Lorenzo di Credi, Leonardo da Vinci, who participated in some of his paintings, like the Baptism of Christ.
However, Verrocchio was mainly a sculptor, who paid a lot of attention to details and he was an excellent portrait sculptor (the Lady with Primroses, Museo Nazionale del Bargello).
In 1481 he moved to Venice to build the Equestrian monument to Bartolomeo Colleoni in the square of SS. Giovanni and Paolo. There he died in 1488 leaving his workshop and artistic legacy to his favorite student, Lorenzo di Credi.
The Uffizi gallery was established in 1560 when Cosimo I Medici, the Duke of Tuscany, wanted to put together the Florentine offices and magistrates (hence the name uffici, offices) in a single building, to have a better control over them.
The work was entrusted to Giorgio Vasari and the construction started the following year. The building was designed in U-shape, consisting of a long east wing, a short corridor overlooking the Arno river and a short west wing, forming classic pattern of a Tuscan loggia. The entrance of the gallery is situated right next to Palazzo Vecchio, the house of the dukes.
The first museological exhibition was organized by Francesco I, the Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1574 to 1587. Thanks to the architect Buontalenti and the initiative of Ferdinand II, the gallery became a representation site, decorated by Antonio Tempesta, where the artworks were conserved as well as the series of the portraits of the Illustrious Men which were placed next to the portraits of the Medici family.
The overall space consists of 8000 square meters and forty-five rooms, all in the third floor, where the art collection includes some of the greatest masterpieces of Italian and European art, such as Giotto’s Maestà di Ognissanti, Simone Martini’s Trinity, the altarpieces of Duccio, Gentile da Fabriano and Mantegna, the Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi by Leonardo Da Vinci, many works of Botticelli, among them the Venus and the Spring, Raphael’s Madonna della Seggiola and Madonna of the Goldfinch, Tiitan’s Venus of Urbino, Caravaggio’s Bacchus and Rubens’s Triumph of Henry IV.
Ferdinand II wanted to add other rooms in the gallery: the room of Mathematics, a terrace and the armory. Between 1696 and 1699 the Grand Duke Cosimo III ordered the decoration of the corridor overlooking the Arno river with frescoes of religious subjects and he sent to Florence some of the most famous examples of ancient statues conserved in Villa Medici of Rome. In this occasion was built the Sala della Niobe, where the ancient sculptures were placed. Other self-portraits of ancient and contemporary painters were acquired and placed in the Vasari Corridor. Cardinal Leopoldo de Medici added to Uffizi his collection of graphic art and created the cabinet nowadays known as the department of drawings and prints.
After the extinction of the house of Medici due to lack of heirs, in 1737 Anna Maria Luisa de Medici donated the treasures of the Uffizi gallery to the city of Florence, so that the collection would always stay where it was created. In 1769 the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo opens the gallery to the public. In the 1770s’ Uffizi was seen as a advantaged laboratory for the studies of art history and for preparation of art, thanks to the work of Luigi di Lanzi and Giuseppe Pelli Bencivenni.
During the Kingdom of Italy, the renaissance statues were moved to the new museum of Bargello and the gallery was gradually taking the function of Pinacoteca. More and more visitors came, and the magistrates were transformed to public archives.
In 1900 the gallery acquired the painting collection of the Arcispedale of Santa Maria Nuova, including artworks such as the Portinari Triptych of Hugo van der Goes, from the church of Sant’Edigio. In the beginning of the 20th century the gallery reinforced the collection by acquiring many works of the 14th and 15th centuries from churches and other religious institutes, which were still absent in the museums historical framework.
The first renovation of Uffizi’s rooms dates back to 1956, when the architects Giovanni Michelucci, Carlo Scarpa and Ignazio Gardella renewed the rooms with light tones of colors that highlight the wooden ceiling. In 1969 the gallery purchased the collection of Contini Bonacossi including Giovanni Bellini’s St. Jerome, Cima da Conegliano’s St. Jerome, Francesco Francia’s St. Francis, Savoldo’s Mary Magdalene, Tintoretto’s canvases and Velazquez’s Waterseller of Seville and Portrait of Philip IV of Spain.
In 2006 the Uffizi galleries started the architectural restoration work, adjustments of the implantation and new layouts for the rooms. The museum remained always open and with the reform of the Italian museum system in 2014 the museums of Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens were joined to the Uffizi.