Christ and the Woman taken in Adultery

Pieter the Elder Bruegel1565

The Courtauld Institute of Art

The Courtauld Institute of Art
London, United Kingdom

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.


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