Jesus in the Temple
Heinrich Hofmann, 1881
Few scenes from the youth of Christ are so well known or beloved as Hofmann’s rendition of Luke 2:46-47, Jesus in the Temple. Even Hofmann’s harshest critic judged this painting “the most pleasing among the many representations of the subject.” As with many of Hofmann’s paintings, the narrative is more significant than the representation of a historically accurate setting. Here, only the classical columns and Seal of Solomon on the chair suggest a temple location. Of greater interest are the figures’ characteristics, gestures, and ways in which they interact with the “precocious” country boy from Nazareth.
Hofmann portrays the elders as thoughtfully developed personalities that viewers can relate to and compare with their own spiritual sensitivity. The ethereal beauty of the twelve-year-old Jesus contrasts markedly with the more corporeal, yet exquisitely painted, 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 resonated with viewers. Jesus in the Temple quickly found its place in the collection of one of Dresden’s foremost art museums.
This piece was displayed in our Sacred Gifts exhibition.
More About Hofmann
Heinrich Hofmann, one of Germany’s most celebrated religious painters of the late nineteenth century, was born in Darmstadt, Germany. At age eighteen he entered the celebrated Düsseldorf Academy of Art, which emphasized the depiction of Christian subjects.
He spent the following twelve years painting in Darmstadt, studying in Europe’s major art centers. These included Antwerp, Paris, Munich, Dresden, Prague, Venice, and Rome. In the process, Hofmann developed his own richly realistic style based on his study of German, Dutch, and Italian Old Masters.
In 1862 he moved to the larger city of Dresden where he lived for nearly five decades. His reproduced religious works find homes in Christian churches and homes throughout the world.