MASTER of the Catholic Kings
(active 1485-1500 in Castile)

Christ among the Doctors

Oil on panel, 136 x 93 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Ferdinand and Isabel became known as the "Catholic Kings" because of their religious zeal, offering the Jews and Moors the choice of converting to Catholicism or being expelled from Spain. This paintings along with seven others formed parts of an altarpiece probably painted for a church or convent in Valladolid in north central Spain and commissioned by or for the monarchs. The high quality of the altarpiece and its probable royal patronage have given the painter the name Master of the Catholic Kings.

The last incident of Jesus' childhood recorded in the Bible derives from Luke (2:41-52). Leaving Jerusalem after celebrating the Passover feast, Joseph and Mary discovered that Jesus was not in the caravan. Returning and searching for three days, they found the boy in scholarly dispute in the temple. Christ among the Doctors shows Joseph and Mary entering the synagogue at the right, while Jesus sits on a dais and thoughtfully places one forefinger on the other. The gesture, also used by the doctor in the foreground at the right, probably implies pointing out stages in a debate.

Deep space is skillfully indicated by contrasting the large scale of the foreground figures with the distant view of a town glimpsed through the door behind Joseph and Mary. The stained-glass windows bear the heraldry of Ferdinard and Isabel as well as of Maximilian I of the Holy Roman Empire. The Spanish monarchs' daughter and son were married to the son and daughter respectively of the Holy Roman Emperor in 1496 and 1497. Thus the altarpiece may have commemorated these dynastic weddings.