On the steps of the Temple of Jerusalem, Christ stops the execution of a woman condemned to death by stoning for adultery. He writes in the dust (in Dutch): ‘He who is without sin, let him [cast the first stone].’ The scene can be read as a plea for tolerance during a time of political and religious upheaval in the Low Countries (now Belgium), where Pieter Bruegel lived.
Bruegel painted this work using only shades of grey, a technique known as ‘grisaille’. The limited palette showed off the artist’s skill. Here, Bruegel creates a crowd with a few deft strokes of grey paint and white highlights. The subdued colours also encouraged quiet contemplation. Such works were highly prized among Bruegel’s friends and collectors.