Heinrich Hofmann, 1881
Few scenes from the youth of Christ are so well known or beloved as this image. Even Hofmann’s harshest critic judged this painting “the most pleasing among the many representations of the subject.” Here, only the classical columns and Seal of Solomon on the chair suggest a temple location. But of greater interest are the figures’ characteristics, gestures, and ways in which they interact with the “precocious” country boy from Nazareth.
The ethereal beauty of the twelve-year old Jesus contrasts markedly with the more corporeal elders of the Jerusalem temple. In his lifetime many people questioned Hofmann about his model for the boy Jesus. Hofmann responded, “When I read about Christ in the Bible, there arises spontaneously before my fancy a picture of Him which I try to retain and to reproduce–that is my only prototype.” This personal vision of the young Christ has resonated with viewers for nearly 150 years.