Tondo with Christ among the Elders

Brabant | Antwerp
Early Renaissance | First quarter if the 16th Century | Ca. 1520

Oak | Sculpted in high relief | On later metal base
H. 44,8 cm. (excl. base) W. 44,2 cm. D. 9,2


Private collection | United Kingdom


Boodt, R. de (2001). ‘La chronologie des retables anversois: état de la question, nouvelles propositions et limited de l’étude.’ In: Retables brabançons des XVe et XVIe siècles. Paris, p. 449-450;
Burn, B. (1989). The Life of Christ: Images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 25


This ‘tondo’, the Renaissance term for a circular work of art, depicts the only episode from the early life of Christ described in the canonical Gospels (Luke 2, 41–47). At age twelve, the young Christ joins his parents on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Christ lingers at the temple and is later found in discussion with the Elders (or Doctors), baffling them with his knowledge. The elevated canopied throne is a reference to the Throne of Solomon and may be interpreted as a prefiguration of Christ’s wisdom and the Last Judgement or the Christ in Majesty, the ruler of the world seated on the Heavenly Throne, as described in the Old Testament (Daniel 7) and the Apocalypse of John.

The young Christ is depicted frontally in the centre of the group, seated on a raised dais, with Mary and Joseph standing on the left. The Elders of the Temple sit at the foot of the steps on low benches. Christ’s gesture, pointing with his index finger towards his upraised thumb, follows the typical medieval treatments of subject and can also be found in book illuminations and Albrecht Dürer’s Christ Among the Doctors painted in 1506 and kept in Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid. This conventional rhetorical gesture expresses the act of expounding text and is derived from classical depictions of professors of philosophy or rhetoric with their students. The present infographic event is a frequent scene in Cycles of the Life of the Virgin and the Life or Passion of Christ. The Crown of Thorns surrounding the group may indicate a Passion Cycle. A comparable tondo with the Circumcision of Christ was sold at Sotheby’s, Amsterdam in 1997, which likely was part of from the same sculpted structure as the present relief. Both scenes fit within the scheme of the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin, a popular representation in the late medieval period (comp. The Virgin of the Seven Sorrows by Adriaen Isenbrant, collection of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels, inv. nr. 2593).

The artificial elegance of the present group clearly displays stylistic elements of Antwerp Mannerism, which typically features elongated figures with affected gestures and twisted positions, posing in elaborate costumes with flowing drapery. This flamboyant style emphasizes storytelling, conveyed by figures in exaggerated poses and is typical for Antwerp sculpture from the end of the first quarter of the 16th century, ca, 1520/5.