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Art Illuminating the Spirit

Christ Among the Doctors

Christ Among the Doctors, ca. 1630
Matthias Stomer
Dutch
Oil on canvas
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Thomas J. Stamm, 1983-06

This Northern Baroque painting depicts the only biblical account of Christ's youth, that of the Christ Child with the doctors or scholars in Solomon's Temple. The scripture recounts a journey that twelve-year-old Christ and his parents made to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. When the festival concluded, Mary and Joseph began their trip home, unaware that Jesus had stayed behind. Returning to the Temple, Mary and Joseph witnessed the astonishing sight of their young son sitting among the great learned doctors, explaining theological doctrine to them.

Stomer has captured this climactic moment. The adolescent Christ stands, surrounded by the doctors who react to His teachings with stunning emotion and variety: one figure fervently searches in his book to see where Christ's new doctrine could be written, another pensively considers His words, while another doctor appears to be arguing with Christ. As viewers, we witness this momentous occasion along with Mary and Joseph, who traditionally are present in depictions of this theme. Stomer, however, has excluded Christ's parents from this painting, focusing instead on the reactions of the doctors. Stomer has placed the viewer in the same position as Mary and Joseph, as a witness to this foreshadowing event in Christianity.

Matthias Stomer belonged to an important group of painters from Northern Europe inspired by the art of Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio. Stomer drew upon Caravaggio's style and his own Northern training to produce work that exemplifies the dramatic, intimate, and momentary nature of the Baroque. Christ among the Doctors illustrates typical Baroque characteristics including sharp contrasts between light and dark shadows, dramatic gestures, and heightened naturalism (notice the dirty feet of the kneeling doctor in the right foreground).

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