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Christ and the Adulteress
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Valentin de Boulogne
French, 1620s
Oil on canvas
66 x 86 1/2 in.
83.PA.259

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Light illuminates the neck and shoulders of a woman looking down at the figure of Christ kneeling on the ground. The Pharisees had brought to Christ a woman caught in the act of committing adultery. When they asked whether she should be stoned, he stooped down and began to write with his finger on the ground. When they continued to ask, Christ said, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." The male accusers watch with varying expressions; some absorb Christ's words, while others recollect their own transgressions.

Profoundly influenced by Caravaggio's realism and dramatic lighting, Valentin de Boulogne used light and shadow and a shallow frieze-like arrangement of figures to convey the scene's emotion. Figures fade into the dark background, while faces, hands, and even a knee emerge from the dimness. The figures are highly individualized, especially the old man at the right who holds his glasses firmly to his nose in order to see better and the elderly man with the weathered face and scraggly hair who holds his cape back against his shoulder. For this biblical narrative, Boulogne used contemporary, working-class people as models, a practice initiated by Caravaggio at the turn of the century.