Noted Dutch artist Aert de Gelder was one of Rembrandt’s most talented students. Studying in his Amsterdam studio from 1661 through 1663, Gelder was a devoted Rembrandt follower which likely provided him unfettered access to the Vatican’s censored and secret artworks and literature. It is believed by many that Gelder may have cleverly revealed this “forbidden knowledge” in some of his paintings, most notably The Baptism of Christ. Painted in 1710, The Baptism of Christ clearly shows a disc-shaped UFO with rays of light emanating onto Jesus below. UFOs and other mysterious elements in art and paintings were fairly common in the Renaissance Period, prior to the French Revolution, after which the Vatican began to consider such art a threat. It is assumed that many of the other pieces from that period also featured unusual objects in the sky.
Modern paintings illustrating the baptism of Christ typically feature a “dove” (bird) descending above Jesus’ head as all of the biblical baptism stories describe the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus “like a dove” (e.g. “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove”). Biblical scholars point out that the Hebrew word for “dove”, YVNH, is very close in spelling to the word YHVH – the Hebrew word for “God”. The primary difference in the two words is the letter N (nun) which contrary to common belief, does not signify a “bird” but rather “a winged messenger”. Regardless, it has always been unclear if the biblical verses meant that the Spirit of God took the form of a dove or came down upon Jesus as a dove comes down.
The oil-on-canvas painting was given to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, United Kingdom by Lord Alwym Compton (Bishop of Ely) in 1905. It hangs in the museum today.