"Guercino (‘squint-eyed’) was largely self-taught. His early style, of which this picture is an excellent example, favoured naturalistic figures painted with rich, dark colours and sharp contrasts of light and shade.
The story of the adulteress is recorded in St John’s Gospel and describes how the woman is saved from being stoned to death by Christ's words: ‘He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.’ Guercino expresses the gentleness of these words through the varying glances and the eloquently gesturing hands."


  • Title: The Woman taken in Adultery
  • Date: c.1621
  • Physical Dimensions: w1227 x h982 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil
  • Work Notes: The subject is from John VIII, 3-7: the Pharisees brought before Christ a woman caught in the act of adultery asking whether, in accordance with the law of Moses, she should be stoned. 'He that is without sin among you,' replied Christ, 'let him first cast a stone at her.' Dated by Mahon 1621.According to a manuscript annotation in a copy of the catalogue (London, Christies') the vendor was 'Champernowne', presumably Arthur Champernowne who with the dealer William Buchanan and the collector Rev. William Holwell Carr financed their agent James Irvine to purchase works in Italy. The partnership was dissolved in 1806 (see Buchanan, 1824, ii, pp. 172-5).Drawings: A sheet with preparatory pen and wash studies on the recto and verso (Vienna, Albertina, inv. no. 2324. See Stix and Spitzmüller, 1941, p. 23, no. 221).
  • Work Nationality: Italian
  • Support: Canvas
  • Provenance: Genoa, Mari coll., shortly bef. 1806; ?Bt from them by J. Irvine; Arthur Champernowne (possibly with shares in the work also held by William Buchanan and Rev. William Holwell Carr); London, Christie's, anon. (Arthur Champernowne) sale, 24 May, 1806, lot 52 ('received within a few days from Italy and has long been admired as one of the chief Ornaments of the Palace of the Mari Family at Genoa'). Bt Bourgeois for £152.5; London, Noel Desenfans and/or Sir Francis Bourgeois, 1806-1807; London, Sir Francis Bourgeois, 1807-1811; Bourgeois Bequest, 1811.
  • Further Information: Guercino’s early work is celebrated today for such visual understatement, an approach to storytelling which rather than creating distance between his images and his viewers with an idealised scene, draws them into the composition by depicting what appears to be a fleeting, unposed moment. The artist here expresses great empathy with the adulteress and emphasises above all her humanity. Although she and her captors are pushed up against the picture plane to evoke the claustrophobia of the moment, her bent head casts her eyes in shadow, granting her a sense of quiet dignity.
  • Artist: Guercino
  • Acquisition Method: Bourgeois, Sir Peter Francis (Bequest, 1811)

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