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Gregorio Preti, Christ disputing with the Doctors

Key facts
Full title Christ disputing with the Doctors
Artist Gregorio Preti
Artist dates 1603 - 1672
Date made 1660s
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 120 × 161.9 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Mrs Alexander Lang Elder, 1899
Inventory number NG1676
Location Room 32
Collection Main Collection
Christ disputing with the Doctors
Gregorio Preti

At the age of 12 Jesus went with his parents to Jerusalem for the Passover. On their return they found he was not with them, and after searching they discovered him in the Temple involved in a learned debate with the Jewish scribes (Luke 2: 41–51). In this dramatic depiction of this story, the young Christ is shown in intense discussion with a group of older men. He appears to be counting off points on his fingers, as a bearded elder leans attentively to listen to him. In the background Mary and Joseph have returned to look for their missing son.

Once attributed to his younger brother Mattia, this picture is now acknowledged as a fine example of Gregorio Preti’s mature style. By the 1650s Gregorio’s compositions contained fewer figures, each one assuming greater significance in the narrative, and many – like this one – articulated by gesturing hands.

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