Christ Among the Doctors, ca. 1504
Albrecht Dürer (Germany, 1471–1528)
12 x 8 1/4 inches
Art Acquisition Fund 1992-3-1
The events depicted in this woodcut by Albrecht Dürer are taken from Luke's gospel (2:42–50), which recounts the travel to Jerusalem of the twelve-year-old Jesus and his family to celebrate Passover. Leaving the city afterward, Mary and Joseph realize that their son is not with them and return to search for him. After three days, they find him in the temple engaged in a scholarly debate on the scriptures with a group of rabbis.
Dürer's composition is enclosed within a vast and elaborate architectural setting framed by a large rounded arch. The mathematically accurate representation of three-dimensional space indicates the artist's familiarity with Italian theories of one-point linear perspective.
Rather than occupying the foreground, Christ sits at a lectern under an ornate canopy in the far-right background. Learned doctors are scattered throughout the scene, intently listening to him. Mary and Joseph emerge from behind the large pier at the left, not yet, apparently, having discovered that Jesus is in the temple.
This image was originally part of a series of 20 prints depicting events from the life of Mary, which Dürer made over a period of years. He did not originally conceive the group as a series, but probably did so after finishing a few images. Most, including this example, were completed before he made a second trip to Italy in 1505, though three were not made until 1510. In 1511, Life of the Virgin was published in book form, with explanatory texts in Latin on the verso of each image.
Text by Megan Foster-Campbell, from Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works, 2008