(b. 1518, Venezia, d. 1594, Venezia)

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery

c. 1550
Oil on canvas, 119 x 168 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

This painting was described by Ridolfi in 1642 in his biography of Tintoretto. Ridolfi writes that the picture "is painted of the adulteress at the moment when Our Lord writes the letters in the dirt with his hand, and the Scribes and Pharisees depart, one after the other, concealing themselves among the columns of a portico that is represented with the most rare perspectival skill; and it is a picture filled with much erudition". The pictorial erudition that so struck Ridolfi is demonstrated in the perspective structure, yet Tintoretto did not achieve this effortlessly: x-rays have revealed errors and redrawings in the lines of the architecture, above all in the patterning of the pavement. There is a strong centrifugal movement to the scene, and its quality of space extended by light seems to prefigure the artist's trilogy of paintings of the life of St Mark.

In his painting of the encounter of Christ and the woman taken in adultery, Tintoretto provides a literal depiction of the biblical account (in John 8: 1 -11): the adulteress stands "in the midst" before Christ, who is seated in the temple preaching, and his disciples; on the right, the scribes and Pharisees are leaving the scene of their defeat, "beginning with the eldest, even unto the last." Christ's judgment frees the woman from the power other accusers: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."

The prevailing opinion of the critics places this painting in the years between 1545 and 1550. The painting belongs to a group of works of medium size and similar format which treat the theme of Christ and the woman taken in adultery in various ways. The best known of these, along with the canvas in Rome, is the version at the Rijskmuseum in Amsterdam.

The attribution of this painting is contested. Recently it was proposed that the author of the Adulteress was Giovanni Galizzi (active 1543-1565), a follower of Tintoretto.

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