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The stare that shows the reality of the Incarnation

The finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple is something of an odd subject for an artist, but I was struck by Bernardino Luini’s treatment of the subject which is to be found in Room 66 of the National Gallery. Luini is not a particularly well-known artist, though his name has had a lot more currency of late. He belonged to the circle of Leonardo, and Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi, which recently sold for a stupendous sum, has been attributed to him in the past. That said, Christ among the Doctors, as it is entitled, is a compelling painting, and just right for this time of year.

Luini’s Christ is supposed to be 12 years old, according to the story, though he looks older to us. He has the beginnings of a beard, which tells us that he is at the threshold of manhood. Given that Luini used the same model for his picture of Saint Catherine this representation of Jesus might seem androgynous, but perhaps is better understood as portraying extreme youth, something that the painters of the Renaissance usually found rather challenging. (Most of their children simply look like miniature adults; the same is true for babies.)

The four doctors who surround Christ are varying examples of maturity and age. Their costumes give the artist a chance to show off his mastery of colour and his ability to paint heads in various attitudes. This picture is almost an advertisement for the way Luini can paint the human head; and yet the doctors, with their finely caught hand gestures are serving as background to Christ, who unlike them, is not looking to right of left, but straight at us, the viewer.

Read more at Catholic Herald.  

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