Giovanni di Paolo - Christ Disputing in the Temple, about 1450-1459

Giovanni di Paolo (Siena, 1398 - 1482, Siena)

Christ Disputing in the Temple, about 1450-1459

Tempera on canvas on a modern panel, 26.7 x 23.6 cm (10 1/2 x 9 5/16 in.)


Object details

Accession number



Probably part of an altarpiece first recorded in 1862 in the Conservatorio di San Pietro at Colle Val d'Elsa, Siena.
Collection of the dealer Sir George Donaldson, London (1845–1925) before 1908.
Purchased by the art dealers Thomas Agnew & Sons, London from Sir George Donaldson in 1908.
Purchased by Isabella Stewart Gardner from Agnew & Sons, London on 20 July 1908 for £405 through Bernard Berenson (1865–1959), American art historian.

Dimension Notes

Frame: 41.9 x 40 cm (16 1/2 x 15 3/4 in.)


Philip Hendy. Catalogue of Exhibited Paintings and Drawings (Boston, 1931), pp. 172-75. (connected to the same predella with the "Adoration of the Magi" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1982.60.4)
Gilbert Wendel Longstreet and Morris Carter. General Catalogue (Boston, 1935), p. 101.
John Pope-Hennessy. Giovanni di Paolo (New York, 1938), p. 90. (in addition to the "Adoration of the Magi" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Pope-Hennessy added the "Nativity" at the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, 1943.112 to this same predella and proposed the "Baptism of Christ" at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, WA1913.2 as the center panel. Later scholars accept the association with the Metropolitan and Fogg panels, but the inclusion of the Ashmolean "Baptism" is open to debate. See Christiansen 1984 and Christiansen et al. 1988)
Stuart Preston. "The Child Jesus Disputing in the Temple" in Alfred M. Frankfurter (ed.). The Gardner Collection (New York, 1946), p. 9.
Cesare Brandi. "Giovanni di Paolo, II." Le Arti (III, 5, 1951), p. 321, no. 58. (dated as after 1461)
“Notes, Records, Comments.” Gardner Museum Calendar of Events 6, no. 46 (14 Jul. 1963), pp. 1-2.
Rollin Hadley. "Giovanni Di Paolo." Fenway Court (Oct. 1967), pp. 49-56, ill. 52.
George L. Stout. Treasures from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1969), pp. 92-93.
Philip Hendy. European and American Paintings in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1974), pp. 106-107.
Rollin van N. Hadley. Museums Discovered: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1981), pp. 38-39. (as "Christ Disputing in the Temple" being the center of the predella and dated as about 1472)
Keith Christiansen in Philippe de Montebello. Notable Acquisitions 1983-1984 (New York, 1984), p. 45-46. (proposed "Presentation in the Temple" from Colle di Val d'Elsa, Siena Pinacoteca as the center panel)
Rollin van N. Hadley (ed.). The Letters of Bernard Berenson and Isabella Stewart Gardner 1887-1924 (Boston, 1987), pp. 421-22, 424-25.
Keith Christiansen et al. Painting in Renaissance Siena 1420-1500. Exh. cat. (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988), pp. 209-210. (Christiansen suggested "Crucifixion" at Christ Church, Oxford as the center panel, but Strehkle considers the "Presentation in the Temple" from Colle di Val d'Elsa, Siena Pinacoteca as the most likely candidate. Dated as 1454-1460)
Alan Chong et al. (eds.) Eye of the Beholder: Masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 2003), pp. 46-47. (probably "Presentation in the Temple," Siena Pinacoteca as the center of the pradella)
Laurence Kanter. "Giovanni di Paolo, Christ Disputing in the Temple" in Hilliard Goldfarb et al. Italian Paintings and Drawings Before 1800 in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Unpublished manuscript. (Boston, 1996-2000). (thinks the "Crucifixion" at Christ Church, Oxford is the most likely center panel, dated as 1454-1459)

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The painting depicts a passage from Luke in which Mary and Joseph, having journeyed to Jerusalem for Passover, realize that the young Jesus is not with them: “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting with the teachers, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Giovanni di Paolo gives his narrative scenes imaginative variation and rich detail. He shows the young Christ grandly enthroned, holding a scroll, and raising a hand in rhetorical argument. The four learned theologians seated below him are each given individual gestures and characterizations. At the left, another elder shows Joseph in as the Virgin Mary hurries up the steps to her son, seeming to interrupt the proceedings

Together with works now in the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, this painting originally formed part of the predella of an altarpiece. The main panel of the altarpiece was probably the Presentation of the Christ Child in the Temple (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena), which presents a more elaborate version of the architecture seen here.

Source: Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 47.