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"Simone Martini: Christ discovered in the Temple"
2001-02-01 until 2001-04-22
Walker Art Gallery
UK United Kingdom
This display focuses on one of the great treasures of the Walker Art
Gallery, Liverpool: 'Christ discovered in the Temple' by the 14th-century
Italian artist Simone Martini (about 1284 - 1344).
Simone was unrivalled during his lifetime for his remarkable ability to
bring his subject matter to life and for his technical skill as a craftsman.
He was active mainly in Siena, the city which produced many of the most
important 14th-century painters in Italy, including Duccio and the
Lorenzetti brothers, examples of whose work can be seen in the National
Gallery's Sainsbury Wing. By contrast, there are few examples of Simone's
work in Britain, and he is unrepresented in the National Gallery.
The painting, signed and dated 1342, is a unique and compelling depiction of
the Holy Family in dispute: Christ's parents, having lost him for three days
after the Passover Festival, find him still in the Temple and challenge his
behaviour. Mary's question 'Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us?' is
inscribed on her book, and we expect Christ's defiant reply: 'Wist ye not
that I must be about my Father's business?' The picture's emphasis on Mary's
struggle to comprehend fully the divine paternity of her son may relate to a
controversial work of contemporary theology. No painter had previously
focused on this moment from the Gospel narrative, although there are other
works by Simone in which such moments of controlled tension are captured.
It is not known who commissioned the panel. Clearly the original owner was
wealthy, for the panel sparkles with rich colours, gold leaf, and stamped
patterning. The back is boldly painted to imitate marble. The small
proportions and rich embellishment of the painting suggest that it was
originally intended for private devotional use.
Current refurbishment at the Walker Art Gallery has provided the opportunity
for this masterpiece to be shown in London.