DÜRER, Albrecht
(b. 1471, Nürnberg, d. 1528, Nürnberg)

Christ Among the Doctors

Oil on panel, 65 x 80 cm
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

At the same time as the Feast of the Rose Garlands, Dürer was working on the painting of Christ among the Doctors. The theme derives from the Gospel of St Luke (Luke 2, 41-52).

On the bookmark at the bottom left of the panel, Dürer has recorded that this picture was `the work of five days', a pointed reference to his inscription on The Altarpiece of the Rose Garlands, the work of five months. Christ among the Doctors is not only a smaller panel, but the brushwork is much more spontaneous and the paint is applied with broad and fluid strokes. Despite Dürer's statement about five days, he based it on a number of careful studies, including one of Christ's gesticulating fingers. Although not present on the original painting, two early copies of the panel have the word `Romae' added to the inscription on the bookmark and this suggests that Dürer visited Rome late in 1506. It may also be significant that the original painting was in Rome's Galleria Barberini until its acquisition by Baron Heinrich von Thyssen-Bornemisza in 1935.

The story recorded in the panel is of Christ's visit to Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, where he debated with the learned Jewish doctors (or scribes). According to the Bible, this was the first occasion on which Christ taught. Dürer's daring composition does not use the conventional temple setting which he earlier used in the lower left panel of The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin. Instead he gives a close-up view of the faces of six doctors crowding round the young Jesus. The elderly doctors, caricatured faces which may well have been influenced by Leonardo da Vinci, argue with Christ by quoting from the Scriptures and gesticulating. Christ, a sober boy of 12, quietly gestures with his fingers to make a point. Dürer contrasts Christ's youthful hands with the gnarled fingers of the ugly old man with the white cap and a gap-toothed grin.