The monumentality of this impressive painting is contradicted by the movement of the figures. Christ humbly receives the baptism from St John, while the Holy Spirit – the dove – testifies that he is the Son of God. Between them, an attending angel gazes boldly out at the viewer. Crespi executed this work in Milan, perhaps for Renato Borromeo, a kinsman of the reformist bishops Carlo and Federico Borromeo. A specifically Milanese artistic taste is reflected in the rocky landscape, where the clear waters of the River Jordan pour down into a valley reminiscent of Flemish examples.
The widow of Councillor of Commerce Ludo Mayer (1845–1917) donated this painting to the Städel in memory of her husband. In 1870 Mayer, a native of Offenbach, became a partner in the Mayer & Feistmann leather factory, a position also held by his nephew Robert von Hirsch after him. For his home town, he generously sponsored a new building for the Technische Lehranstalten (technical schools), the interior of the city library in the Isenburger Schloss, and the Ernst Ludwig Fountain (‘Ludo Mayer Fountain’), which still exists today. He was declared an honorary citizen of the town in 1915.