The panel, dated 1668, was painted in the artist's native Rotterdam during the period in which he lived in immediate proximity to a Catholic "hidden church"—indicating that the artist himself was Catholic. Hondius treated a number of New Testament themes in the 1660s and later, some about this scale and others much larger. On the whole, such works were obviously intended for Catholic patrons. Although the subject of this picture would have had broad appeal in the Netherlands, where religious disputes were common, the nimbus around Christ's head, the halo over his mother's head, and the emphasis given to Mary and Joseph may be described as Catholic iconography.
Luke (2:41–51) relates that the twelve-year-old Jesus entered the Temple of Jerusalem and engaged its learned elders in theological debate. After three days of searching, Mary and Joseph discovered their precocious son. Like other Dutch artists, Hondius treats the doctors as fools, a sure sign of which is hilarious headgear. The large volumes hauled down from the bookcase in the right background will be to no avail.
The monumental architecture is conceived in a contemporary classical style like that often depicted by Bartholomeus van Bassen (ca. 1590–1652). The dog in the foreground is a typical, if unexplainable, motif in religious pictures by Hondius.
[2016; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower left): Abraham Hondius / 1668
sale, Christie's, London, May 3, 1974, no. 173, for 400 gns. to Holland [Feigen]; [Richard L. Feigen, New York, 1974; sold to Culicchia]; Dr. and Mrs. Carl F. Culicchia, New Orleans (1974)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 352–53, no. 83, colorpl. 83.