Home Introduction Jesus Mary Apostles Saints Spiritual Themes Genesis Moses Deuteronomic History Educating Arte Full new Screen

The Adulterous Woman

Christ and the Adulterous Woman

Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556). Musée du Louvre- Paris. Around 1530-1535.

Lorenzo Lotto was a painter born in Venice around 1480. He was a contemporary of the leading masters of Venice, Tiziano and Palma Vecchio, but he left the town’s artistic production to these two latter artists. Lotto travelled around Italy, to settle in Bergamo near Venice. In 1554 he became a religious Brother in the Holy House of Loreto and died somewhat later in 1665. Lorenzo Lotto had a profound religious feeling and a contrasting very secular tendency for worldly motives. He was a strange, conflicting personality with sudden moods that reflected in the large variety of themes in his painting. He lived away from the mainstream of artists, preferred to stay aloof and delivered a very individual art. An example of the struggles within his soul may have attracted him to a representation of sin, next to the religious fervour of many representations of the Virgin Mary.

The theme of the ‘Adulterous Woman’ is taken from John. It is a story that happened in Jerusalem. Jesus had been to the Mount of Olives but at daybreak he appeared in the Temple and as all the people came to him he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman along who had been committing adultery; and making her stand there in the middle they said to Jesus, ”Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery, and in the Law Moses has ordered us to stone women of this kind. What have you got to say?” They asked him this as a test, looking for an accusation to use against him. But Jesus sat down and started writing on the ground with his finger. As they persisted with their question, he straightened up and said, “Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he bent down and continued writing on the ground. When they heard this they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until the last one had gone and Jesus was left alone with the woman, who remained in the middle. Jesus again straightened up and said, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she replied. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go away, and from this moment sin no more!” G38

John gave no explanation on what Jesus was writing in the ground, but a medieval tradition held that Jesus was putting down the sins of the scribes and Pharisees. On seeing their own sins made public, the Pharisees left G41 . Jesus has also no sentimental attraction to sin. He does not agree with sin, does not excuse it. Nor does he show any feeling of complicity with the adulterous woman. He only does not condemn her and tells her not to sin anymore. Before all, Jesus emphasised the weakness of man or woman and set the value of the person before other feelings. In pictures, the adulterous woman generally has braided hair and one breast bare, the signs of the courtesan. One Pharisee may hold the book with the old Law of Moses; another may hold a stone in his hand G41 .

Lorenzo Lotto painted the turmoil. Jesus is amidst a crowd of shouting, ugly men. An uproar is in the making and is growing to a climax of violence. All kinds of men are around Jesus and the woman, even Orientals with turbans. The men are all pointing at Jesus and they are gesticulating and tearing at the woman. A harnessed soldier is grasping the woman’s gown away to bare her and show the apparel of temptation. The woman is being undressed in the minds of the spectators and certainly in the eyes of the lecher next to her. The soldier grasps at her hair too so that the woman reclines her head in fear and pain.

Jesus is standing in the middle with a calm but decided face. His face is round and mild. It does not seem up to the task. This Jesus is not authoritative, towering above the crowd. Who will win, what will be the outcome? Will Jesus fear too and give in to the people? The moment is still undecided. The conflict is centred on the woman, So Lotto has drawn lances above Jesus that are growing out of the crowd and emanating from the adulterous woman as radiation. These are the thorns of sin, which may one day fall back on Jesus and crown him.

The colours in this painting are clear but not hard. This is Venetian colour, but the painting definitely has a Florentine crystal clear line and tone. All is painted in detail and the colour areas conflict as the theme dictates. There is the green of the woman’s cloak. This is neither the red colour of love nor the blue colour of spirituality. The transparent white shirt of the woman is in the same hues as her bared neck. Next to her is the bright red robe of Jesus and his blue cloak. Remember that this red is the colour of love. Around Jesus there is much brown, black, white patches and the metal-grey of the guard. No two colours are the same; Lotto's palette was very rich and brilliant.

Jesus staying serene in the midst of a violent crowd is a recurring theme in religious imagery. The image is international too. Jeroen Bosch of Flanders painted Jesus thus surrounded by ugly heads. And Albrecht Dürer of Nuremberg made in 1506 a ‘Christ among the Doctors’ in which Jesus is similarly surrounded by ugly faces. Lotto may have known these pictures or more probably has expressed the same feeling of oppression. It was not the first time Lotto had shown this feeling. We have – also in the Louvre Museum – a “Christ carrying the Cross” which resembles much Bosch’s painting, but which of course was shown with the rich Italian colours and light.

The Jesus of the ‘Adulterous Woman’ of Lorenzo Lotto is a tormented Jesus on the brink of losing control. Yet he remains calm and mild. He lifts a soothing hand and presses his lips together. Despite the pressure he has to stand up to the crowd, yet not give in to its violence by his own violence or anger. John explained that Jesus took a detached air, started writing on the ground as if he was not part of the crowd. This was a good reaction for otherwise Jesus would have been drawn into the turbulent arguments and gestures of the men. Lotto has so well understood this and painted his picture accordingly. At the same time, Lotto had to bring the viewer into the picture. Therefore the figures in this painting are not shown from head to foot but only to the middle. This is the view we ourselves would have had we stood in front of Jesus in the middle of the scene. Lotto used this way of representation often.

Lorenzo Lotto was a deeply religious person. He must have been a tormented man, unsure of himself, and unsure of his feelings. The guilt that Christian faith imposes on men was heavy on him. Lotto was unsettled in life, in search for peace and without inner rest. His picture shows some of these feelings in marvellous colours and scene. This profound characterisation of psychology in the middle of action is what Lotto painted often. In the ‘Adulterous Woman’ we are tempted to believe that Jesus is Lorenzo Lotto.

Other paintings:

Copyright: René Dewil Back to the navigation screen (if that screen has been closed) Last updated: January 2007
Book Next Previous

Copyright: René Dewil - All rights reserved. The electronic form of this document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source as 'René Dewil - The Art of Painting - Copyright'. No permission is granted for commercial use and if you would like to reproduce this work for commercial purposes in all or in part, in any form, as in selling it as a book or published compilation, then you must ask for my permission formally and separately.