Several months ago we acquired Der zwölfjährige Jesus I’m Tempel (The 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple) by Ernst Zimmerman portraying a young Jesus among the elders of the temple in Jerusalem. The painting was originally hung at the 1879 Munich International Exhibition, the precursor to the World’s Fair. Since the exhibition, the painting had been lost until it made its way to Salt Lake City. Now the painting is on its way to the BYU Museum of Art for the opening of a new exhibition later this month
In 1879, the Zimmermann hung alongside this famous work by Max Liebermann of the same subject. Liebermann created a wave of controversy over his simplistic portrayal of Jesus alongside historical Jewish priests dressed in modern robes. The resulting uproar against Liebermann, a Jew himself, created a fervor around the exhibition and around artists working in Munich at the time. A retrospective of the exhibition in 2011 featured many of the original pieces from the 1879 exhibition, but curators could not locate the original Zimmermann painting.
Two years later, and after attending the Munich exhibition and seeing both the 27 year old Zimmermann and the 31 year old Liebermann’s depictions of Christ in the Temple, Heinrich Hofmann created a number of famous versions of the same scene, depicting a much more idealized depiction of Christ among the doctors.