REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn
(b. 1606, Leiden, d. 1669, Amsterdam)

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery

Oil on wood, 84 x 65 cm
National Gallery, London

Catalogue number: Bredius 566.

Christ's forgiveness of the adulteress is described in the Gospel of St John, chapter 8. Rembrandt shows the moment at which the Pharisees, attempting to outwit Jesus, ask him whether, in accordance with the Mosaic law, she should be stoned to death. Jesus replies 'He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone'.

The painting is an outstanding example of Rembrandt's gifts as a colourist, an aspect of his art which is sometimes forgotten. Within the dark interior of the temple, golds, reds, greens and browns glow as they are struck by a strong fall of light. In some respects this is an unusual painting for its date, 1644, in that the composition - the small figures dwarfed by the cavernous space of the temple - as well as the elaboration of detail and the degree of finish, especially in the background, hark back to the style of paintings of a decade earlier (such as The Presentation in the Temple of 1631). However, the broader treatment of the foreground figures is consistent with Rembrandt's greater freedom of handling in the 1640s and, above all, the quieter, restrained mood of the picture and its size accord with a move away from the intensely dramatic, large-scale Biblical scenes of a few years earlier.

The painting has an interesting history. It was almost certainly the painting of this subject which, at 1500 guilders, was the highest valued item in the inventory of the Amsterdam art dealer, Johannes de Renialme, drawn up in 1657. Subsequently it was owned by the Six family until sold to a dealer in 1803. Four years later it was sold in London to John Julius Angerstein whose paintings, purchased by the British government in 1824, formed the basis of the National Gallery's collection.