Joachim Patinir (?)
Landscape with the Baptism of Christ and the Sermon of St. John, ca. 1520
Oil on panel, 29 x 38.5 cm

Patinir, if the tradition is accurate, was the first artist since Antiquity to make landscape the subject of a painting. Landscapes – distant perspectives of Biblical or profane content – had appeared on many Late Gothic altars and panels as parts of a whole, but Patinir, as it were, made the landscape independent. But no matter how much more fascinating the landscape is than the event depicted in it, the event which is the pretext of the landscape, remains still there. The scene is purely imaginary, full of contrasts in height, depth and object interrelationships. And yet we feel the full effect of individualized realities. The mellow, blue-green rocks recall the valley of the Meuse; the far landscape stretches out as in reality beneath a pale sky, which turns white at the horizon. The artist hesitates between his familiar fantasies and the unfamiliarity of nature. The Holy Land is transplanted to Brabant; the representation transfigures the environment. In the foreground, kneeling on the bank of the Jordan and supported by the Book of the Law, John baptizes the Saviour; in the distance – appearing twice in the same picture, following the old usage – the Baptist preaches in a wood before a great assemblage. The trooper sitting in front wears a stylish cap with peacock feathers. Above the Baptism hovers the dove of the Holy Spirit; in the heavens appears God the Father.