Painting & Parable: Christ and the Adulterous Woman


Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Christ and the woman taken in adultery, 1565, Oil on panel, 24.1 x 34.4cm. Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525-1569) is  a mysterious artist with fewer than forty paintings actually  ascribed to him. While he is most often associated with scenes of peasants drinking and fantastical creatures, he has three small grisaille paintings,that  display a refinement not found in the rest of his oeuvre.

Monochrome painting in shades of grey was a mainstay of Netherlandish art from the early fifteenth century, most often present on the wings of altarpieces and preparatory sketches for engravings but Bruegel’s panels constitute one of the earliest and rare examples of independent cabinet pictures in grisaille, created for private contemplation and enjoyment.

This seemingly austere type of painting has often been imbued with religious or political significance. On a purely artistic level, it enabled the painter to showcase their skill by limiting the palette.The three panels will be complemented by comparative material, including prints and contemporary replicas, as well by other independent grisailles in order to shed light on the development of this genre in Northern Europe.

 Leviticus xx:10 If a man commits adultery with a married woman-if he commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife-both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.a  

And Jesus added though it should be noted,  that   John 7:53-8:11 ; is not found in some of the most ancient manuscripts. St Augustine declares that it was stricken from many copies because of a fear that it might teach immorality! But in the immediate context of John 7:12-46 where Christ declares  “I am the light of the world.” seems to be aimed directly at the Pharisees hypocrisy.

John viii: 2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  5 In the Law Moses (see Leviticus above) commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 
 
6 They were using this question as a trap. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.  9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 
 
10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”