paris bordone - Christ Disputing in the Temple, 1543-1547

paris bordone (Treviso, 1500 - 1571, Venice)

Christ Disputing in the Temple, 1543-1547

Oil on canvas, 168 x 234 cm (66 1/8 x 92 1/8 in.) canvas


Object details

Accession number



Probably painted for the Tiepolo palace or for a church in Venice of which the Tiepolo family were patrons in the 1540s.
Purchased by Auguste Louis de Sivry, a French adventurer living in Venice, from Count Tiepolo after 1797 and still in his collection in 1831.
Collection of John Benjamin Heath (1790–1879), English Consul General for Italy by 1878 when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy, London.
Purchased by Rutley at the sale of John Benjamin Heath, Christie's, London on 8 March 1879, lot 135.
Collection of G. A. F. Cavendish Bentinck (1821-1891), London.
Purchased by Dr. Jean Paul Richter (1847–1937), art dealer and scholar, London at the sale of G. A. F. Cavendish Bentinck in 1891, Christie’s, London, lot 610.
Purchased by Isabella Stewart Gardner from Jean Paul Richter on 3 September 1901 for £1,650 through Bernard Berenson (1865–1959), American art historian, via Miss Toplady (a firm of art dealers established by Logan Pearsall Smith (1865–1946), brother-in-law of Bernard Berenson), London.


Signed at the base of the column (lower left): BORDONUS
Inscribed (verso): 8 July (date of the G. A. F. Cavendish Bentinck sale in 1891; see bibliography)
Inscribed (back of the frame): 610 (lot no. at the G. A. F. Cavendish Bentinck sale in 1891; see bibliography)
Label (back of stretcher, top center): Royal Academy Exhibition of the Works of the Old Masters 1878 / Paris Bordone / Christ Disputing with the Doctors / With owner: Baron Heath 66 Russell Sq. W.C.
Label (back of stretcher, bottom right): Royal Academy Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters 1894 / Paris Bordone / Christ with the Doctors / owner: Dr. J. P. Richter 14 Hall Road NW


Christie, Manson and Woods. Catalogue of Eight Highly Important Antique and Modern Pictures, and Four splendid Drawings by Peter De Wint, The Property of the right Hon. the Earl of Lonsdale; also, the valuable collection of... the Baron Heath, F.R.S., F.S.A, Deceased, Late Italian Consul General (London, 8 March 1879), lot 135. (as from the Tiepolo Palace, Venice)
Christie, Manson and Woods. Catalogue of the Highly Important Collection of Ancient and Modern Pictures, Objects of Art, Decorative Furniture, and Old English & Foreign Silver and Silver-gilt Plate, of the Late Rt. Hon. G.A.F. Cavendish Bentinck, M.P., P.C.,... (London, 8-11, 18-19 July 1891), p. 62, lot 610. (entitled "The Saviour Disputing with the Doctors in the Temple")
Luigi Bailo and Gerolamo Biscaro. Della Vita e delle Opere di Paris Bordon (Treviso, 1900), pp. 130-31, no. 40.
Catalogue. Fenway Court. (Boston, 1903), p. 22.
Philip Hendy. Catalogue of Exhibited Paintings and Drawings (Boston, 1931), p. 60. (dated around 1534-1535)
Gilbert Wendel Longstreet and Morris Carter. General Catalogue (Boston, 1935), p. 235.
Morris Carter. "Mrs. Gardner & The Treasures of Fenway Court" in Alfred M. Frankfurter (ed.). The Gardner Collection (New York, 1946), p. 60.
Sylvia Sprigge. Berenson, a Biography (Boston, 1960), pp. 183-85.
Giordana Canova. Paris Bordon (Venice, 1964), p. 75, fig 67. (dated as 1540-1545)
“Notes, Records, Comments.” Gardner Museum Calendar of Events 9, no. 37 (15 May 1966), p. 2. (excerpting Sylvia Sprigge, pp. 138-85)
S. J. Freedberg. Painting in Italy: 1500-1600 (New Haven and London, 1971), p. 538. (entitled "Christ Among the Doctors," dated as about 1545)
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections (Cambridge, 1972), p. 32.
Philip Hendy. European and American Paintings in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1974), pp. 36-37. (dated around 1534-1535)
Rollin van N. Hadley. Museums Discovered: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1981), pp. 62-63. (dated as about 1545)
W.R. Rearick. "The Drawings of Paris Bordon" in Antonio Mazzarolli et al. Paris Bordon e il suo tempo (Treviso, 28-30 October 1985), p. 52. (dated as around 1535)
Giordana Canova. "Paris Bordon: Problematiche chronologiche" in Antonio Mazzarolli et al. Paris Bordon e il suo tempo (Treviso, 28-30 October 1985), pp. 153, 155, fig. 37.
Rollin van N. Hadley (ed.). The Letters of Bernard Berenson and Isabella Stewart Gardner 1887-1924 (Boston, 1987), pp. 263-65, 267-71, 273, 278, 296.
Hilliard Goldfarb et al. Italian Paintings and Drawings Before 1800 in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Unpublished manuscript. (Boston, 1996-2000).
Alan Chong et al. (eds.) Eye of the Beholder: Masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 2003), pp. 108-109. (dated as mid-1540s)
Carl Brandon Strehlke and Machtelt Brüggen Israëls. The Bernard and Mary Berenson Collection of European Paintings at Villa I Tatti (Milan, 2015), pp. 161, 167, 170.

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The subject of the painting is Christ Disputing in the Temple, the only event from Christ’s childhood mentioned in the Gospels. The theme of religious debate offered a painter ample opportunity to portray a variety of puzzled and agitated facial expressions. Paris Bordone underscored the theme of Christianity’s imminent triumph by making the brightly lit Christ Child the calm center of a composition of muscular figures in restless poses. Books and scrolls in simulated Hebrew lettering and a bell at the lower right lie in disarray. Punctuating this confusion is the very human expression of Christ’s frantic parents who enter at the upper left; you can almost hear Mary whine, “We’ve been looking all over for you!”

A cautious painter who tended to react to developments in Venetian painting rather than initiate them, Paris Bordone trained under Titian and emulated Titian’s style of the 1510s and 1520s – albeit in a more timid mode – for his entire career. This painting (which has been variously dated between the mid-1530s and 1545) seems indebted to a picture of the same subject by the young Tintoretto (Museo del Duomo, Milan), which must date from the early 1540s. Bordone’s painting is typically Venetian in its layering of impasto to create a surface resonant with rich coloring, particularly in the costumes, whose folds have squirmy lives of their own. Characteristically Venetian as well is the way Paris improvised during the process of painting: major changes include shifting Christ from left of the central door to the right, altering the shape of the throne, and adding the decorated step in the foreground.

That Mrs. Gardner didn’t always collect “names” confirms her status as a collector. Buying a picture by Paris Bordone would not have furthered her social position, nor the reputation of her collection. Rather, she selected this masterpiece by a second-tier artist in order to provide context for paintings by more famous artists, especially Titian’s Europa, and also for its intrinsic beauty and drama.Gardner bought the picture from J. P. Richter, a noted scholar of Leonardo da Vinci, who also had a reputation as a dodgy dealer.Yet Richter certainly had an eye for quality; he sold Mrs. Gardner her painting by Giotto.

Source: Frederick Ilchman, "Christ Disputing in the Temple," in Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 109.