Wading carefully through the water of the River Jordan, Christ leans his upper body forward, and extends his arms for balance, his fingertips gently touching Saint John the Baptist's side. Christ’s outstretched arms may prefigure his position on the cross at his crucifixion. He bows his head to receive the purifying water, while above, divine light from the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove illuminates the sky. Three angels sit at his feet, bearing witness to the act, while blue-winged cherubim look down from heaven. The poses of Christ and the Baptist were inspired by a painting of the same subject by Tintoretto, painted for San Silvestro in Venice early in the 1580s.
Paolo Veronese used luminous, highly saturated colors and vibrant light to animate the scene. In the lush landscape, trees frame the composition and lean away to either side to reveal a serene clearing. The theme of the Baptism of Christ is one which Veronese tackled numerous times during his career, and this work is considered the last such example. The early provenance of this work is unknown, but it has been suggested that the relatively modest size of the painting may indicate that it was made for a private chapel, or perhaps for private devotion in a secular setting. Scholars generally agree that the idea and the overall design of this painting were entirely Veronese’s, as was the execution of the main figures, but that other elements, including the putti in the sky, were likely carried out by assistants.