The Reflective Strategy Of Assimilating The Viewers (of the Painting) Into The Painting

Giovanni Battista Moroni, “A Gentleman in Adoration before the Baptism of Christ” (1555 – 1560)
Giovanni Battista Moroni, “A Gentleman in Adoration before the Baptism of Christ” (1555–1560)

Moroni’s bold division of the intra-painting space suggests not only the ontological difference between secular realm where Moroni’s “gentleman” is located, and sacred realm where baptism of Christ by the John the Baptist takes place, but their unity, that is made even more articulate by their difference. The secular and the sacred realms of the painting are like the two-flower plant near the lower margin of the canvass, where the smaller flower points at the secular area, while the bigger one to the opposite direction where spirit itself becomes humanized.

In spite of being separated from the sacred event by the thick stone wall and the waters of the river and despite the fact that the direction of “gentleman’s” gaze doesn’t geometrically correspond to the exact location of the area we expect him to look at – at Christ and John the Baptist (he looks rather at the future results of this exceptional event), the secular area can be considered as congruent with the sacred because the hands of the observer of baptism (in praying position) transcends the symbolic separation of the two realms by protruding into the sacred one.

There are no traces of piety on the secular observer’s (gentleman in adoration) face – just stubborn concentration and a sadness and torment (from knowing the historical destiny of the both – Christ and John the Baptist). What does it mean – to pray to the baptism of Christ? For what purpose such prayer can exist? Is secular observer praying for the success of this sacred meeting of Christ and John the Baptist for the future of humanity? Baptism of Christ must have a particular meaning. Indeed, what can the god-son get from being baptized by a human being – John the Baptist? If to consider that we look at the scene of baptism through the gaze of the “gentleman in adoration”, Christ is baptized into humanity – into human destiny and human ordeals. God is baptized into human condition – physical fragility, physical pain, human need for psychological support, human despair and doubt in his mission. The facial expression of the observer in adoration is not “iconic”, the spiritual pain he feels is expressed by the contained stress in the lower part of his face – he identifies with Christ’s earthly destiny, but also – and here is the point of the painting about secular spirituality – he identifies with Christ after John’s baptizing, with Christ’s human sacredness, with godly nature of human being’s potentials. In other words, we see in Moroni’s painting not just the combination of the sacred and secular areas (the left and the right segments of the canvass) but their unification inside the sacred realm, where secular element is not only related to the holy element but is as equal in its spiritual importance. This reinforcement of secular reality inside the very sacred reality complicates the composition of Moroni’s painting and makes the unity of the sacred and secular exclamatory and historically futuristic. We don’t see the traditional situation when somebody is praying to the holy apparition, but instead a person who is praying to the sacred unity of the sacred and secular realities.

The observer in the painting personifies us, the viewers of the painting. And he especially represents the democratic viewers today because of their tendency to be spiritually more secular, not spiritual in a idolatrous, otherworldly, superhuman – conservative sense. Our representative (“gentleman”) in the painting identifies with Christ not as the child of God as bearer/possessor of exceptional ties with his Heavenly Father, but with his heavenly earthly nature. He identifies with him being baptized into humanity – with him as with the carrier of the sacredness of being human in a spiritual way.

For Moroni it is not enough just to think about Christ’s ordeals as that of a human being (not to use God’s power to protect oneself from the evil human deeds and human vulnerability). It seems, he wanted to represent in his gentleman-human witness of Christ‘s baptism those who are able to learn from Christ to respect themselves as human beings regardless of their belief or disbelief in Christ as Godly Son of God. This perspective is contrary to the habitual – conservative one, when people identify with Gods’ power and even try to emulate it with high-tech weaponry and super-wealth. Moroni’s painting orients the viewers on a world where god becomes human, where god accepts human condition and becomes an example of noble humility in dealings with other people and with the natural environment.

Over Christ in the scene of baptism we see an angelic cloud which, as if, is pointing not at Christ (as it could be in traditional – conservative, based on idolatry, tradition), but to the importance of baptism of supreme spiritual value into the condition of human life. It is, as if, through Christ God-Creator is blessing his own potentially human nature into which God’s nature incarnates itself through Christ’s earthly destiny. And we understand – the praying gesture of the secular observer is repeating the praying gesture of Christ. “Gentleman”-observer learns from Christ-who-became-a-human-being, a new – human pray, pray for humans who became the victims of evil committed by humans – that of betrayal, deception, cruelty, enslavement in all its forms, humiliation, torture and murder. If in traditional – metaphysical belief in god, humans are not supposed to sin because it contradicts god’s commandments, in the new perspective emphasized by Moroni’s painting, a human being has to refrain from sin for the sake of not violating our godly-earthly nature. In his “A Gentleman in Adoration before the Baptism of Christ” Moroni registers how praying to the super-human agency is becoming the existential hope/task of investing human spiritual energies into earthly lot of human beings.

The river which the baptized Christ will cross, doesn’t only separate the scene of baptism from gentleman in adoration/human observer and viewers of Moroni’s painting but at the same time connects it with them – one sleeve of the river, as if, leads towards us, people living outside art. After being baptized Christ has already turned to us and will move in our direction – to the world where we all live for (already) more than five, more than twenty centuries.

The archaic scenery/landscape behind the scene of baptism through the meaning of a new baptism is opened to the future, where Moroni’s protagonist and we, the viewers of the painting wait with the desire to understand more our past and future. The meaningful symbolic composition of the painting and the solid Renaissance sacred humanism of the painter is an incredible – trans-historical achievement of Giovanni Battista Moroni.

To pray to John the Baptist’s baptism of Christ means to pray to our internal god’s inspiration and power to keep our spiritual courage, perseverance and endurance in resisting human evil.

Moroni, Giovanni
Giovanni Battista Moroni, “A Gentleman in Adoration before the Baptism of Christ” (1555–1560)