Previously unpublished, this delicately painted picture was believed to be by Gerrit Dou at the time of the 1811 Paris sale and has recently been recognised as a work by Willem de Poorter. This attribution has been confirmed by Dr. Werner Sumowski, who describes it as 'ein qualitätvolles Werk des Meisters' (written correspondence, 24 February 2013). It can be regarded as one of the finest examples of de Poorter's oeuvre from the late 1640s when he was working most closely under the influence of Rembrandt and Dou.
Based on Willem de Poorter's small-scale biblical and history paintings of the 1630s, it seems highly probable that he received his training in the Leiden workshop of Rembrandt alongside Gerrit Dou, who had been working there since 1628. De Poorter took up the popular subject of Christ and the Woman taken in Adultery once more in a comparable work now in the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden (dated to after 1644 on stylistic grounds). While de Poorter evidently based both of these compositions on Rembrandt's Simeon's Song of Praise (datable to 1631; The Hague, Mauritshuis) - and indeed painted a direct copy of that painting (also Dresden, Gemäldegalerie) - he was also, evidently, looking at Rembrandt's Woman taken in Adultery (circa 1644; London, National Gallery). Here, he moved away from Rembrandt's influence and created his own rendition of the dramatic episode. While retaining the upright format, he sets the crowd against an arrangement of columns and arcades, dispersing the spectators throughout the temple and pushing three figures to the very foreground. Building on the lessons he would have learned in Rembrandt's studio, he plays with light and shadow, placing the exposed adulteress in the spotlight while submerging the hostile Pharisees in the shadows. In the minutely rendered brocade drapery, patterned garment folds and trims, he shows an astonishing sensibility to textures, thus proving himself a talented finschilder.
De Poorter's religious subjects explore the complex and often ontentious relationships between Christ and the temple scribes, the Pharisees and priests, and believers and non-believers. These were popular themes in the seventeenth century, and show Christ's infinite mercy towards the sinful yet repentant woman.
This panel is first recorded in George Pitschaft's sale of 1811. Pitschaft was 'Premier Conseiller des Finances, et Directeur des Douanes' to the elector of Mainz and later went to Paris where he expanded his art collection. After his sale, the painting found its way to England, where it appears in the 1848 probate valuation of Anne Elizabeth Murray (née Cholmley Phipps), the only child of Constantine John Phipps, 2nd Baron Mulgrave, P.C. (1744-1792), and the widow of General Sir John Murray, 8th Bt. of Dunerne (1768 ?-1828). With her husband, Lady Murray formed an excellent collection of Old Masters, which notably included Jean-Antoine Watteau's La Surprise (Christie's, London, 8 July 2008, lot 2, £12,361,250).