Christ Disputing with the Doctors

The Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds (thought to be Juan Dó), 'Christ Disputing with the Doctors', 1630s

The Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds, thought to be Juan Dó (Spanish, c.1604-1656)
Christ Disputing with the Doctors, 1630s

oil on canvas, 98.8 x 131.7 cm
Presented by IIB Bank (Heritage Gift), 2001
NGI 4700


The episode illustrated in this painting is described in the gospel of Luke (2: 42-51). When Jesus was only twelve he was brought to Jerusalem by his parents and towards the end of his sojourn he disappeared. After three days they finally found him in the temple, talking with the doctors and the scribes. In the painting, an animated discussion is taking place between a doctor - a pair of spectacles resting precariously behind his ear - who consults a large volume of Holy Scripture, and the young Jesus. A second white-haired scholar observes the debate.

The first recorded owner of this painting is Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Wicar (1762-1834), a French painter who spent most of his life in Italy. After Wicar's death, it was acquired by Richard Wingfield, 6th Viscount Powerscourt, who brought the painting to Ireland and displayed it at Powerscourt House, County Wicklow. The picture presumably remained in Powerscourt until the house was sold in 1961, and only reappeared in 1998. Viscount Powerscourt acquired the painting as a Caravaggio.

Today it is thought to be by the so-called 'Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds'. The artist's anonymity has long puzzled scholars who have in the main proposed two names, Bartolomeo Bassante (or Passante) and, more recently, Juan Dó; both followers of the Spanish artist Ribera. More recent studies, however, seem inclined to accept Juan Dó as the true author. Dó was a Spaniard who emigrated at an early age to Naples.