The subject is taken from the first chapter of the Gospel According to John (1: 29–31). Ivanov called that subject “universal.” He strived to show all of humanity in that defining, life-changing moment. The centre of the painting is occupied by the figure of John the Baptist who is baptising the people in the River Jordan and pointing to the oncoming Jesus. To St. John’s left, we see a group of apostles: the young John the Theologian, behind him – Peter, further on – Andrew and behind his back - Nathaniel, the so-called “doubter.” The foreground shows youths and elders – a symbol of unceasing life. In the centre, there is a wealthy man who has turned away from Christ and a slave, about whom Ivanov said, “Among usual suffering there has appeared a joy for the first time.” In the figure on the right, the “closest to Christ”, –one can recognise the writer N.V. Gogol. The artist gave his own features to the wanderer with a staff seated not far from John.
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