• Et Partu Fontis Exceptum: The Typology of Birth and Baptism in an Unusual Spanish Image of Jesus Baptized in a Font

    Pamela Patton (see profile)
    Medieval Studies, Religious Studies
    Middle Ages, Art, Romanesque
    Item Type:
    Medieval history, Romanesque art
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    A capital with an unusual scene of the Baptism of Jesus has recently been excavated in the late twelfth-century cloister of San Juan de la Peña (Huesca). Remarkable for its depiction of a youthful Saviour seated in a footed baptismal font, the image deviates significantly from the traditional Romanesque formula of an adult Jesus baptized in the Jordan River. Examination of this motif's iconographic roots locates it among a small family of similar northern Spanish images, the earliest of which is an illumination in the so-called "Beatus of Gerona," dated A.D. 975. The unconventional motif of the Baptism in a font seems to have resulted from a deliberate iconographic borrowing, by which an image of the Bath of the Infant Jesus at the Nativity was deliberately recast as a Baptism scene. This borrowing depends in part upon pictorial similarities between the traditional formulas of Bath and Baptism, but it is supported by a venerable ideological typology which links the purification of Christian baptism with that of the natal bath. This typology is echoed in Christian liturgy by the repeated pairing of the Baptism of Jesus with numerous episodes relating to his Nativity, and seems also to have been known elsewhere in Europe, where it inspired scenes which resemble, but are not directly related to, the Spanish group. Although the specific circumstances which inspired the Spanish Baptism in a font remain unknown, the complex visual and theological foundations on which the motif depends bear witness to the creativity and adaptability of its unknown medieval inventor.
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    6 years ago
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