Painting of the Week: The Woman Taken in Adultery

In The Woman Taken in Adultery, Rembrandt beautifully portrays the well-known story of Jesus defending an accused adulterer and teaching a lesson on compassion and hypocrisy.

Jesus’ stature is exaggerated to make him seem taller (and thus morally superior) to those trying to trick him. He is brightly lit with a compassionate expression, emphasizing the central theme of the narrative.

The woman is the focal point, bowed in what appears to be guilt or shame. Her pale clothes contrast the dark robes of the man who brings her for condemnation and of the Jewish onlookers.

Shadowy figures in the background add depth and contrast to the lightness of Jesus and the adulteress, intentionally designed to draw the eye to the scene in question.

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Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” — John 8:6b–11


Artist: Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

Year: 1644

Location: National Gallery, London


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