Mark Harden's Artchive Beckmann, Max
Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery
1917
Oil on canvas
58 3/4 x 49 7/8 in.
St. Louis Art Museum

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Stephan Lackner writes:

"This picture could almost be called "a drama of hands." The variety and expressiveness of these hands and their gestures are incredible. If one could see nothing but Jesus' right hand, one would know that here a poor soul is being received into the mild, deep space of divine protection. Christ's left hand, shaped like an elongated Gothic arch, defends the sinner, pushing back insults and menaces. These gently energetic, almost elegant hands are counterpointed by the passive, soft hands of the adulteress praying in quiet confidence. The mocking, cruelly aggressive forefinger of the clownish scoffer; the rude fists shaking furiously in the air on the left; the lancer's hands bent back by the impact of the crowd's hatred_this is an assembly of characters in the shape of hands.

"It is rewarding to follow their intents: the thrust of the mocker's index finger meets the conciliatory force of Christ's right hand; the supplicant's wave of devotion is conducted to heaven by Jesus' left fingers; and this same left hand collects and throws back, like a concave mirror, the scorn of the self-righteous accuser.

"It is difficult to tell how many people there are in the restricted space of this picture. Utmost economy prevails; four spears stand for a whole troop of soldiers. The pattern of legs and feet forms a repeated angular design; one could not move a single limb without toppling the pictorial structure. Even the disjointed members symbolize the larger event, a never-completed congregation. This purposeful incompleteness was already used by Matthias Grunewald, and there are several other artistic devices that Beckmann learned from the early sixteenth-century master. The colors, too, are reminiscent of Grunewald's grisailles. These severely restrained grays, browns, and yellows are thinly painted; they appear almost transparent and give a strange lightness to the dramatic scene.

"The figures are projected in extreme close-up. So close is the eye of the supposed spectator that it sees the feet from above and the shoulders from below. We are thus almost sucked into the narrow space of the picture; we must participate. We are made part of the age-old, eternal drama. Christ forgives the sinner, but He averts His face, avoiding any intimacy. "Go, and sin no more," He says."