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Key facts
Full title Christ and the Woman taken in Adultery
Artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Artist dates active 1550/1; died 1569
Date made 1565
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 24.1 × 34.4 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit On loan from The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London
Inventory number L1275
Location Room 14
Art route(s) C
Image copyright On loan from The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London
Collection Main Collection
Christ and the Woman taken in Adultery
Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The woman in the centre of the painting stands accused of adultery. She has been brought to Christ to receive his judgment. Bruegel paints a moment of tension in the story, as the onlookers await Christ’s verdict, all eyes following his handwriting on the ground. His message, written in Dutch, is a condemnation of hypocrisy: let he who is free from sin cast the first stone.

Painting in shades of grey (‘grisaille’) was traditionally used for the outer wings of folding altarpieces to mimic the appearance of stone in painting but by Bruegel’s days artists adopted the medium to experiment with the rendition of light, textures, and psychological drama through limited means. Bruegel only painted three surviving paintings in monochrome. Intimate in scale, these grisailles were collected by Bruegel’s close circle of humanist friends and family. Here, this illusionistic technique showcases his skilful handling of paint in the contours of Christ’s robes creased against his body, and the elders’ almost sculptural drapery.

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