Lot 30
  • 30

Matthias Stomer

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Matthias Stomer
  • Christ disputing with the doctors
  • Oil on canvas


Prince Caracciolo, Naples
Prince Carafa, Naples (by marriage and inheritance from the above)
Anonymous sale: Sotheby's, London, July 5, 1989, lot 7
Acquired at the above sale by A. Alfred Taubman


Utrecht, Central Museum and Braunschweig, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Holländische Malerei in neuem Licht, 1987, no. 77
Detroit Institute of Arts, 1990-2015 (on loan)
Birmingham, UK, Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Matthias Stom: Isaac Blessing Jacob (exhibition catalogue), October 1999 - January 2000, no. 2


Holländische Malerei in neuem Licht (exhibition catalogue), Utrecht 1987, no. 77, p. 340, illustrated p. 341
Benedict Nicolson, Luisa Vertova, ed., Caravaggism in Europe, Turin, 1989, vol. I, p. 182
Richard Verdi, Matthias Stom: Isaac Blessing Jacob (exhibition catalogue), Birmingham, UK, 1999, no. 2, pp. 38-39, illustrated p. 11, fig. 2, and a detail on the front cover
Leonard J. Slatkes, "Birmingham, Mathias Stom," The Burlington Magazine, March 2000, vol. 142, no. 1164, discussed p. 182
Giuseppe Porzio, La scuola di Ribera, Naples, 2014, no. 37, p. 105, illustrated p. 142, fig. 71

Catalogue Note

This striking work by Stomer should be counted among the artist's masterpieces. Painted in Naples during the latter part of the 1630s, the painting and its companion, Isaac Blessing Jacob (fig.1), in the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham, UK, are testament to Stomer's mastery of the theatricality of the Caravaggesque idiom. That a Flemish artist should have painted the works in Naples highlights to what extent the Caravaggesque movement dominated European art in the first half of the 17th century. 

The well-known story of a precocious young Christ astounding the scribes in the Temple with his deep understanding of the Scriptures is taken from Luke's Gospel, and was popular with Caravaggio's followers. Stomer's cinematographic treatment of the subject is a characteristic example of Caravaggism, as is the chiaroscuro and the careful composition. Christ's hand is raised and occupies the center of the composition: its presence reminds the viewer that His arrival will put an end to the old way, symbolized by the books of the Law held by the Doctors, and embodies the New Covenant. The clean hand is also a reminder that one day it will be bloodied and nailed to the Cross, marking mankind's redemption through His death. The neat semicircular disposition of the background figures adds to the feeling of confrontation between Jesus and the men, but in no way affects His determination and confidence.

The quality of the brushwork is equally remarkable. The range of textures are beautifully observed, from the folds in the garments of the turbaned man to the left, particularly his sleeves, the wrinkles in the fleshtones and the still-life elements of the scriptural texts in the foreground. A wide array of facial expressions transmits the intensity of the seated figure to the left as well as the amazement of the face directly above that of the Christ Child.

The Taubman painting, the aforementioned work in the Barber and a Tobias healing his father's blindness by Hendrick De Somer (fig. 2), in a Neapolitan private collection, are first recorded in the collection of Prince Caracciolo in Naples and later passed to that of Prince Carafa in the 18th century (for De Somer's painting, see Porzio, op. cit., no. 37, p. 105, illustrated p. 231, plate 23). Since the subjects of the three pictures are taken respectively from the New Testament, the Old Testament and the Apocrypha, it is not immediately clear why they should have been commissioned to hang as a series. The running thread in the series is, in fact, the confrontation of youth and old age, an encounter that in each case sees youth coming out more favorably. While the two pictures by Stomer are of the same size, the Van Somer is a little smaller, measuring 120 by 160 cm. This could either be because the picture was cut down or trimmed along the edges, or else because it was in fact painted at a different moment to complete the set. The design of De Somer's Tobias follows that of Stomer's Isaac Blessing Jacob, perhaps in an attempt to fit into the cycle.