Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, 1565. Oil on canvas,  The Courtauld Gallery, London.

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery by the Netherlandish Renaissance artist Pieter the Elder (1525–1569) is executed almost entirely in shades of grey, in a near-monochrome style is known as grisaille. Because Bruegel was also an engraver, this painting may have been intended to serve as a model for an engraving. Indeed, Paul Perret created an engraved version of this composition after Brueghel’s death. The scene depicts the biblical episode from John 7:53-8:11 where Jesus defends an adulteress by challenging an angry crowd: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” In this scene, the words, which Jesus scrawled in the dirt, are written in Dutch, a testament to the Protestant Reformation’s attempt to make scripture more accessible to the laymen.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery. Oil on canvas, 1565. The Courtauld Gallery, London.

A sixteenth-century movement in Europe that questioned the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

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