Sunday, March 19, 2017

Water From the Rock

Moses Stricking the Rock
from a Book of Hours
French (Paris), 1547-1559
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 1429, fol. 45
“In those days, in their thirst for water,
the people grumbled against Moses,
saying, "Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?
Was it just to have us die here of thirst
with our children and our livestock?"
So Moses cried out to the LORD,
"What shall I do with this people?
a little more and they will stone me!"
The LORD answered Moses,
"Go over there in front of the people,
along with some of the elders of Israel,
holding in your hand, as you go,
the staff with which you struck the river.
I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb.
Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it
for the people to drink."
This Moses did, in the presence of the elders of Israel.
The place was called Massah and Meribah,
because the Israelites quarreled there
and tested the LORD, saying,
"Is the LORD in our midst or not?"

(Exodus 17:3-7) First Reading for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year A

From its early days Christianity has been a religion of images, in spite of the anti-image rhetoric and actions of some Christians over its two-thousand-year span.  Images have told the stories of the Bible, both of the Old Testament and the New, even before the canon of the New Testament was finally determined.

One of the ways in which images were used was to remind the faithful and those who were investigating the faith of the stories that they heard in the liturgies in which they participated.  These stories were drawn from the Old Testament and from the new books that were beginning to be recognized as of equivalent inspiration and value, what we now call the New Testament.  Frequently, the stories of persons or events from the Old Testament were seen as precursors or pre-figurations or “types” of persons and events from the New.  For example, the story of Jonah and the Whale was seen as a pre-figuration of the death and resurrection of Jesus. 1
Moses Striking the Rock
Roman, Early 3rd Century
Rome, Catacomb of St. Callixtus

One of the stories represented on an early painting from the catacomb of Saint Callixtus in the 3rd Century is that of Moses Striking the Rock (Exodus 17:3-7), which is the First Reading for the Third Sunday of Lent in Year A and is also the First Reading used during the Third Sunday of Lent in Years B and C, when catechumens who are preparing for Baptism at Easter Vigil are present.   This story, in which Moses brings water out of desert rock, is on its original level a great sign of God’s love for His people, sustaining them and giving them life.
Watercolor Copy of Wall Painting with Biblical Scenes
Roman, 4th Century
Rome, Catacomb under the Vigna Massimo
On a more developed level, when seen in the light provided by the Gospel, it becomes also the symbol or type for Christian participation in the new life in Christ offered through Baptism, the Eucharist and the Church.  Therefore, in an early 4th Century painting in the catacomb of the Vigna Massimo, we see the image of Moses striking the rock in the upper left corner of a wall painting that presents some of the most important stories of the Old and New Testaments, including in the upper register:  the Christ Dividing Loaves, Adoration of the Magi, Susanna, Noah, the Raising of Lazarus; and in the lower register: Daniel, Tobias with the Fish, the Healing of the Paralytic, Job.  It is particularly interesting that Moses Striking the Rock is shown as a sort of pair to the Raising of Lazarus, both are large figural images in more or less the same, outer edge, position in the composition. 2   
"Sarcophagus of the Apostles"
Roman, 346-355
Rome, Museo Nazionale Romano
This pairing was repeated in the so-called “Apostles Sarcophagus” dating to the mid-fourth Century at the Museo Nazionale Romano.  The sarcophagus presents the Adoration of the Magi and the story of Jonah in the upper rim level and images of the Apostles and three miracles of Jesus in the lower level.  At the lower level corners, clearly posed as terminations to the other images in that level because they both face out of the sequence, looking outward from the two front corners, are Jonah on the left and the Raising of Lazarus on the right.  Thus we see that the early Christians saw the connection between the miracle of the water in Exodus as a prefiguration of the new life resulting from Baptism and as related to the resurrection of Lazarus, in which he also was raised to a new life.

Moses Striking the Rock and Angel at the Tomb
from the Orations of Gregory Nazianzus
Byzantine (Constantinople), 879-882
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Grec 510, fol. 226v










Similarly, artists followed the typological thinking of the early Church Fathers.  A ninth-century Byzantine painter saw the connection between Moses/Baptism and Resurrection, when he included the two scenes on the same page in an illustrated copy of the Orations of Saint Gregory Nazianzus.  In the upper register we find the image of Moses Striking the Rock.  In the lower register, an angel appears to the tomb guards and they flee in panic.









During the Middle Ages in western Europe the story of Moses striking the rock and bringing forth water was told primarily as an illustration of the Exodus text, minus the more resonant imagery of the early period.

Moses Striking the Rock
German, c. 1170
Gröningen, Benedictine Monastery Church of Saint Cyriacus, Chapel
Although difficult to see because of the wear of centuries this image shows Moses at left striking a large rock at the center.  At the right an Isrealite man and woman drink.
Moses Striking the Rock and
Moses Raising the Brazen Serpent
from the Psalter of Saint Louis
French (Paris), c. 1270
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 10525, fol. 37v


Moses Striking the Rock
from the Bible of Clement VII
Italian (Bologna), End of 13th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 18, fol. 53v
























Medieval images frequently show Moses with what appear to be horns.  This is an attempt to represent the beams of light which shone from his face following his encounter with God on Mount Sinai.

Master of the Roman de Fauvel, Moses Striking the Rock
from Bible historiale by Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), 1300-1325
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 156, fol. 59v

Moses Striking the Rock
from Bible historiale by Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), 1300-1325
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 160, fol. 55

















Claes Brouwer, Moses Striking the Rock
from History Bible
Dutch (Utrecht), c. 1430
The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek
MS KB 78 D 38-Dl1, fol. 57v
This unusual image not only is done in grisaille (with little color) but also shows the rock as a separate slab lying on the ground, not as an outcrop.
Master of the Boece Flamand, Moses in Prayer (top) and Moses Striking the Rock
from Jewish Antiquities by Flavius Josephus
Flemish (Bruges), 1483
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 11, fol. 64
However, the connection between Baptism, Eucharist and Resurrection was not lost entirely.  It continued in the tradition of the Biblia pauperum, an illustrated book that was the most widely read of all books intended for the laity, with the exception of the Book of Hours, which was the lay prayer book.  The Biblia pauperum taught its readers through a three-tiered series of images.  Central to each set of images were scenes “Under Grace”, that is from the New Testament, to the left of the center were scenes from “Before the Law”, that is from the Book of Genesis and on the right were scenes from “Under the Law”, that is from the other books of the Old Testament.   The scenes which interest us here were those that included Moses Striking the Rock.  These were “Before the Law”, the creation of Eve from the side of Adam; “Under Grace”, the centurion pointing to the wound of the lance in Christ’s side as He hung on the cross; and “Under the Law”, Moses striking the rock. 
Rambures Master, Creation of Eve, Christ's Pierced Side, Moses Striking the Rock
from a Biblia pauperum
French (Hesdin or Amiens), c. 1470
The Hague, Meermano Museum
MS RMMW 10 A 15, fol. 32v
These are interrelated in a famous catechesis of Saint John Chrysostom, which is still read today as part of the Office for Good Friday, which reads in part:
“…The gospel records that when Christ was dead, but still hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and immediately there poured out water and blood. Now the water was a symbol of baptism and the blood of the holy Eucharist. The soldier pierced the Lord’s side, he breached the wall of the sacred temple, and I have found the treasure and made it my own. So also with the lamb: the Jews sacrificed the victim and I have been saved by it. 
There flowed from his side water and blood. Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolized baptism and the holy Eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit, and from the holy Eucharist. Since the symbols of baptism and the Eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam. Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh! As God then took a rib from Adam`s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and water after his own death…” 3
And the entry into the Church through Baptism had its prefiguration in the water that Moses struck from the rock at God’s command.

Images of this event from the Renaissance through the modern period are not as explicit about the connections, but there is often a connection in how these works of art were placed, especially when commissioned for the decoration of churches.   All focus on the element of water and on the figure of Moses and his actions.  Some artists, such as Jordaens and Poussin, returned to the subject multiple times.
Jan Snellinck, Moses Striking the Rock
Flemish, 1575-1600
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
Jacob Jordaens. Moses Striking the Rock
Flemish, 1618-1620
Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle
Joachim Wtewael, Moses Striking the Rock
Dutch, 1624
Washington, National Gallery of Art
Nicolas Poussin, Moses Striking the Rock
French, c. 1630s
Edinburgh, Private Collection
Jacob Jordaens, Moses Striking the Rock
Flemish, c. 1645-1650
Los Angeles, Getty Center

Nicolas Poussin, Moses Striking the Rock
French, 1649
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum
Jan Victors, Moses Striking the Rock
Dutch, 1655-1676
Private Collection
Charles Le Brun, Moses Striking the Rock
French, c. 1660
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Jan Steen, Moses Striking the Rock
Dutch, c. 1660-1661
Philadelphia, Museum of Art
Corrado Giaquinto, Moses Striking the Rock
Modello for mural in S. Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome
Italian, 1743-1744
London, National Gallery
Jacques-Francois Amand, Moses Striking the Rock
French, c. 1760
Dijon, Musee Magnin
Atelier Charles Lorin, Moses Striking the Rock
French, 1912-1914
New York, Church of St. Jean Baptiste
Marc Chagall, Moses Striking the Rock
Franco-Russian, 1960-1966
Nice, Musee national Marc Chagall























In the majority of images, the emphasis is on the action of Moses and the flow of the water.  However, some images, dating to the first century after the breakup of Christianity at the so-called Reformation, present a darker image.  They treat the event in a very different way than earlier or later artists.  In these images the action of Moses and the springing of the water from the rock is not the central image.  Indeed, Moses and the spring are often actually difficult to locate.  The emphasis is on the people and their reaction to the event, far more than one sees in somewhat similar paintings.  There is some controversy about what this short-lived aberration may mean and whether it is in some way a comment or reflection on the religious turmoil of Europe at the time. 4
Lucas van Leyden, Moses and the Isrealites after the Miracle of Water from the Rock
Dutch, 1527
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts
Gillis Mostaert, Moses and the Isrealites after the Miracle of Water from the Rock
Flemish, c. 1560
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Abraham Bloemaert, Moses Strking the Rock
Dutch, 1596
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Hendrick van Balen and Jan Bruegher I, Moses and the Isrealites after the Miracle of Water from the Rock
Flemish, c. 1610-1615
Private Collection
Gioacchino Assereto, Moses and the Isrealites after the Miracle of Water from the Rock
Italian, c. 1640
Madrid, Museo del Prado
One other work stands out in a unique way.  This is the monumental Roman fountain, called the Fontana dell’Acqua Felice.  The fountain stands in the Piazza San Bernardo, just across from the church of Santa Maria della Victoria which houses the famous Cornaro Chapel of Gianlorenzo Bernini.  Both monuments are famous, but for different reasons.  Bernini’s work is one of the most sublime creations of the Baroque.  The fountain is famous because it is so ugly.  Constructed on the orders of Pope Sixtus V and built between 1585 and 1589, it was planned as the terminus of the first new aqueduct to enter Rome since the fall of the Roman Empire, the Acqua Felice.  Sixtus was proud of his efforts to improve the lives of the people of Rome and commissioned this fountain to commemorate it.  No doubt Sixtus visualized himself as a new Moses, by providing clean water. 
Domenico Fontana, Prospero Antichi and Leonardo Sormani  Fontana dell'Acqua Felice
Italian, 1585-1588Rome, Piazza San Bernardo
Prospero Antichi and Leonardo Sormani, Moses
Fontana dell'Acqua Felice
Italian, 1585-1589
Rome, Piazza San Bernardo

The monumental triumphal arch was the work of the architect Domenico Fontana, who also completed the great dome of St. Peter’s, left unfinished at the death of Michelangelo, and who added the lantern at its top.  The center niche of the arch is filled by a statue of Moses which has borne the reputation of ugliness since the day it was unveiled.  It is an object lesson in the perils of artistic cooperation, for apparently one sculptor modeled it in clay and began cutting it in marble, but found his skills not up to the task.  The result is a huge and ungainly body topped by a too small head.  5  The visual effect is quite unpleasant.

It is easy to see why the Church pairs the reading of this portion of Exodus, with the array of meanings with which it has been associated, with the Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Lent, the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well, during which Jesus reveals Himself as the true source of “living water”.  He is the true rock from which the water of life springs (1 Corinthians 10:1-5) and the fulfillment of the promise which the story in Exodus foreshadows. 


© M. Duffy, 2017




Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
  
  1. Lee M. Jefferson, “Picturing Theology: A Primer on Early Christian Art”, pp. 410-425 @ https://www.academia.edu/1859908/Picturing_Theology_A_Primer_on_Early_Christian_Art
  2. For baptismal reference see:  Ethel Ross Barker, “The Symbolism of Certain Catacomb Frescoes-I”, The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 24, No. 127 (Oct., 1913), p. 47
  3. From the Catechesis of Saint John Chrysostom @ http://www.liturgies.net/Liturgies/Catholic/loh/lent/goodfridayor.htm
  4. Lawrence A. Silver, “The Sin of Moses: Comments on the Early Reformation in a Late Painting by Lucas van Leyden”, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 55, No. 3 (Sep., 1973), pp. 401-409.
  5. Steven F. Ostrow, “The Discourse of Failure in Seventeenth-Century Rome: Prospero Bresciano's "Moses", The Art Bulletin, Vol. 88, No. 2 (Jun., 2006), pp. 267-291.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

“He Told Me Everything I Have Done!”

Jan Saenredam after Hendrick Goltzius
The Samaritan Woman
Dutch, 1600-1650
Washington, National Gallery of Art*
“Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar,
near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
Jacob's well was there.

Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well.
It was about noon.

A woman of Samaria came to draw water.
Jesus said to her,
"Give me a drink."
His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.
The Samaritan woman said to him,
"How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?"
—For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.—
Jesus answered and said to her,
"If you knew the gift of God
and who is saying to you, 'Give me a drink, '
you would have asked him
and he would have given you living water."
The woman said to him,
"Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep;
where then can you get this living water?
Are you greater than our father Jacob,
who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself
with his children and his flocks?"
Jesus answered and said to her,
"Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again;
but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst;
the water I shall give will become in him
a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
The woman said to him,
"Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty
or have to keep coming here to draw water."

Jesus said to her,
"Go call your husband and come back."
The woman answered and said to him,
"I do not have a husband."
Jesus answered her,
"You are right in saying, 'I do not have a husband.'
For you have had five husbands,
and the one you have now is not your husband.
What you have said is true."
The woman said to him,
"Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.
Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain;
but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem."
Jesus said to her,
"Believe me, woman, the hour is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You people worship what you do not understand;
we worship what we understand,
because salvation is from the Jews.
But the hour is coming, and is now here,
when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth;
and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.
God is Spirit, and those who worship him
must worship in Spirit and truth."
The woman said to him,
"I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ;
when he comes, he will tell us everything."
Jesus said to her,
"I am he, the one speaking with you."

At that moment his disciples returned,
and were amazed that he was talking with a woman,
but still no one said, "What are you looking for?"
or "Why are you talking with her?"
The woman left her water jar
and went into the town and said to the people,
"Come see a man who told me everything I have done.
Could he possibly be the Christ?"

Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him
because of the word of the woman who testified,
"He told me everything I have done."
When the Samaritans came to him,
they invited him to stay with them;
and he stayed there two days.
Many more began to believe in him because of his word,
and they said to the woman,
"We no longer believe because of your word;
for we have heard for ourselves,
and we know that this is truly the savior of the world."

John 4:5-29, 39-42 (Excerpt from the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year A)

This section of the Gospel of John has been recognized as of great importance since it was written.  It is scheduled for the third Sunday of Lent in Year A and, like the other Year A readings, is used for the Sunday Mass of the Third Sunday at which the catechumens of a parish (i.e., those adults preparing to receive Baptism at the Easter Vigil) participate.  It reminds us of the importance of Baptism, of receiving the “living water” of Jesus, not just for our own lives, but as a cause of the joy that leads to both our own conversion and to our mission to convert the world. 
Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well
Late Antique Roman, c. 350
Rome, Catacomb in Via Latina
It has also been a very important subject in the history of Christian art.  Indeed, the earliest image that illustrates it slightly predates the generally agreed point in time at which the Canon of accepted New Testament Scripture was completed.  A painting from the mid-fourth century catacomb in Via Latina shows the woman at the well listening to Jesus, who is represented, as He frequently was at this time, as a youthful, non-bearded philosopher.1

What is it about this story that has made it so powerful over such a long time?  The setting is simple.  There is a well, known to both Jews and Samaritans as the well of their ancestor, Jacob.  There is a man, Jesus, who decides to sit there and rest, while sending His followers to find food for the midday meal.  There is a woman who comes to draw water.  We are specifically told that it is “about noon”.  

Anonymous, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Russian, Second half of 19th Century
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum
This last statement is important.  “About noon” in the region of Palestine is the hottest time of the day in a generally very hot climate.  It is the time when the sun beats down most directly.  It is not the time for running daily chores, if you can avoid going outside, unless you really want to be by yourself.  It would appear that this woman wanted to avoid encountering others.  She is either ashamed of something or fearful of the comments and actions of others.  In other words, she is hiding.

So, imagine her dismay at finding this solitary Jewish man sitting at the well.  Jews and Samaritans did not mix, nor did unrelated men and women speak to each other in public.  One can imagine similar situations in our own day in areas of fundamentalist Islam where women are tightly circumscribed.  Nevertheless, she needs to get the water before the sun diminishes and the town becomes active again.  So, she decides to ignore the man and steps up to the well to draw her water.  No doubt to her intense astonishment the man speaks to her and asks for a cup of water.  This is not a surprising demand in itself, since water is so very important in a dry, hot land.  What is astonishing is that He is a man and a Jew and she is a woman and a Samaritan.  And she tells Him so (John 4:9).

Pieter de Grebber, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Dutch, 1635
Private Collection
Then He tells her something that is more astonishing even than His speaking to her.   He tells her that He is someone special, a “gift of God” and that He has a source of “living water” (John 4:10).  Living water implies water that is flowing, as at a spring where the water never ceases to flow out of the earth or at a stream, not standing as in a pool or water cistern.  Taking Him at His literal word, she wonders aloud how He can do this since He has no vessel for collecting any water, let alone living water. (John 4:11-12)  Again He answers somewhat cryptically that He is the source of a living water that will prevent thirst forever. (John 4:13-14)  We know He means the water of life that is given to those who believe in Him, enabling them to flourish spiritually forever.  She interprets Him literally.  Still thinking on an everyday level, she asks for this water, so she won’t have to come back to the well again (John 4:15) – and risk painful encounters with those she wants to avoid. 

Bartholomeus Breenburgh, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Dutch, c. 1640-1657
Private Collection
At this point Jesus changes the conversation and asks her to go get her husband and come back. (John 4:16)  Then the bitter truth behind her avoidance of her community comes out.  She has no husband.  And Jesus astonishes her further by telling her the story of her life.  She has no current husband, but has had five and is currently living with a man not her husband. (John 4:17-18) And now she begins to realize that this is not just some ordinary Jewish traveler who happened to sit down at the well.  He is a prophet, who can see into the human soul. (John 4:19)

But, this woman is spirited.  Since He is a prophet she has something she wants to get off her chest.  It is probably a complaint that many Samaritans had “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem." (John 4:20).  And He tells her the most astonishing thing so far:
"Believe me, woman, the hour is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You people worship what you do not understand;
we worship what we understand,
because salvation is from the Jews.
But the hour is coming, and is now here,
Abraham Bloemaert, Christ and
the Woman at the Well
Dutch, c. 1620
Private Collection 
when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth;
and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.
God is Spirit, and those who worship him
must worship in Spirit and truth." (John 4:21-24)


With that a suspicion grows in her.   “The woman said to him, "I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything." (John 4:25)   Could this be Him?  Then, comes confirmation.  “Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one speaking with you." (John 4:26) This is the first time Jesus has made this claim for Himself – and He is making it to a Samaritan who is also a woman and a sinner!  What clearer indication could He give for what His church was going to be for everyone:  Jews, non-Jews, sinners, even women who have been married five times and are now living in an irregular relationship! 

At this point the disciples come up and are so shocked at seeing Him talking to a solitary woman that they seem to be rendered speechless. (John 4:27)

Meanwhile, a great transformation has been worked in this formerly fearful woman.  She leaves her water jug, rushes into the village and tells everyone she meets to “"Come see a man who told me everything I have done.  Could he possibly be the Christ?" (John 4:28-29)   Only half an hour before she was so fearful of being seen in public that she chose to go to the well in the middle of the hottest time of the day, sure that everyone else would be indoors behind thick walls.  Now one can imagine her rushing from house to house, knocking on doors or grabbing people by the arm.  “Come, see!”  Her whole being has been transformed.  Her joy has driven out her fear.  She has become a missionary. 

Her enthusiasm is so great that her neighbors do go and see.  They are so interested that they even invite Him to stay.  And, when He finally departs they have not only her testimony, but their own experience to guide them.  "We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world." (John 4:42)

The story is dramatic, but the drama consists in the conversation of two people, not in great actions.  There is drama here, but it is the drama of a soul being touched by grace and of a life being changed without large, vehement gestures.  Hence, the art that illustrates it may often seem static.  It is, therefore, more in the nature of a sign than of a great narrative.  Consequently, although there are certain distinct iconographies in which artists have represented the scene, there is little development within these iconographies.

The Primitive

These is indeed the earliest iconographic type as well as the simplest composition, not to simplicity of art.  It begins to appear almost as soon as Christians begin to decorate surfaces with art.  We have already seen the example from the catacombs.  There is Jesus, the woman and the well, sometimes represented as a small scene among many other small scenes.   There is virtually no development within this group.

Christ and the Woman at the Well
Early Byzantine, c. 500
Ravenna, Sant'Apollinare Nuovo

Ivory Book Cover with Christ and the Woman at the Well (center of bottom row of images)
Byzantine (Origin Unknown), 550-600
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9384
Panel from the Cathedra (Episcopal Throne) of
Bishop Maximian
Byzantine (Italy), c. 550
Ravenna, Archepiscopal Museum



Ivory Pyxis with Christ and the Woman at the Well
Byzantine (Eastern Mediterranean), 2nd half of 6th Century
Paris, Musee du Louvre






Biblical Scenes
From Orations by St. Gregory Nazianzus
Byzantine (Constantinople), 879-882
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
Grec 510, fol. 215v
Christ and the Woman at the Well (detail)
From Orations by St. Gregory Nazianzus
Byzantine (Constantinople), 879-882
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France 
Grec 510, fol. 215v

























Christ and the Woman at the Well
from a Gospel Book
Byzantine (Constantinople), 12th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
Supplement grec 27, fol.20

Lazaros, Christ and the Woman at the Well
from a Bible
Turkey (Amasya), 1659
France, Bibliotheque nationale de France
Smith-Lesouef (oriental) 253, fol. 243v



















With The Disciples Near Jesus


Next to develop is the scene in which the disciples arrive, coming near enough to Christ and the woman to overhear the conversation.  This sets the scene near the end of the discourse between them.  It was a popular way of presenting the scene for many centuries.


Ivory Plaque
with New Testament Scenes
Italian, 11th-12th Century
Salerno, Museo Diocesano San Matteo
Christ and the Woman at the Well is at
the top.









Christ and the Woman at the Well
Bernward's Column
German, c. 1020
Hildesheim, Church of Saint Mary


























Christ and the Woman at the Well
Single Leaf from a Psalter
English (Canterbury), 1155-1160
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M521, fol. 1v
Mosaic of Christ and the Woman at the Well
Italian, c. 1180
Monreale, Cathedral




















Christ and the Woman at the Well
from a Book of Hours
German (Franconia), 1204-1219
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M739, fol. 22r
Duccio, Christ and the Woman at the Well
from the Maesta Altarpiece
Italian, 1308-1311
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
Christ and the Woman at the Well
from Vies de la Vierge et du Christ
Italian (Naples), c. 1350
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
Francais 9561, fol. 161



Jesus and the Woman at the Well (painted on glass)
German (Southwest), c. 1420
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
























Master of Otto of Moerdrecht, Christ and the Woman
at the Well
from a History Bible
Dutch (Utrecht), c. 1430
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliothek
MS KB 78 D 38-Dl2, fol. 165r


















Workshop of the Master of the Rouen Echevinage
Christ and the Woman at the Well
from a Book of Hours
French (Rouen), 1465-1475
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M32, fol. 13v






























Workshop of Giovanni della Robbia, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Italian, 1500-1530
Cleveland, Museum of Art







































Annibale Carracci, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Italian, c. 1595
Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera


Hendrick de Clerck, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Flemish, c. 1620
Private Collection
Jacob Jordaens, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Dutch, c. 1640
Nizhny Novgorod, Nizhny Novgorod State Art Museum






















Jacob van Oost the Younger, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Flemish, 1688
Private Collection
Alessandro Magnasco, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Italian, 1705-1710
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
Franz Anton Maulbertsch, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Austrian, 1752-1753
Vienna, Cloister of the Piarist Order, Church of Maria Treu
Johann Jakob Zeiller, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Austrian, 1764
Ottobeuren, Monastery Church of Saints Theodore and Alexander













































The Disciples Approaching in the Distance

Another version of the story includes the disciples, but places them in the distance.  They are coming but not yet nearby.  So, the moment is seen as being somewhat earlier in the story.  This also was popular for many centuries.

Jan Joest von Kalkar, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Dutch, 1508
Kalkar, Catholic Parish Church of Saint Nicholas
Fernando Gallego
Spanish, 1480-1488
Tucson AZ, University of Arizona
Museum of Art, Kress Gift


























Joachim Wteweal, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Dutch, c. 1600
Private Collection

Venetian School, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Italian, First half 17th Century
County Durham UK, Barnard Castle, Bowes Museum
Abraham Bloemaert, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Dutch, 1624-1626
St. Petersburg, FL, Museum of Fine Arts
Lambert Jacobszoon, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Dutch, c. 1625-1635
Private Collection
Bartholomeus Breenburgh, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Dutch, 1634
Private Collection
Francisque Millet, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Flemish, 1650-1700
Cherbourg-Octeville, Musee Thomas Henry
Rembrandt, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Dutch, 1659
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum
Pierre Mignard, Christ and the Woman at the Well
French, 1690
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Gabriel de Saint-Aubin, Christ and the  Woman at the Well
French, 1752
Rouen, Musee des Beaux-Arts
Norbert Grund, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Czech, c. 1760
Vienna, Belvedere Museum

























Just Jesus and the Woman

The version of the story that has resonated the most over the centuries is, however, the scene in which only Jesus and the woman appear in conversation.  It is a natural development from the primitive image of the two figures and the well, fleshed out with all the artistic language of the succeeding centuries.  It may be set close up or in the middle of an open landscape, but the focus is on the interaction of the two.  It does not tie the imagination down to any one moment of the encounter, but is a versatile enough focus to permit artists to set any part of the encounter that appeals to them. 


  • Some chose the first moment of the encounter, as Jesus makes His request to the startled woman.
Juan de Flandres, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Flemish, 1496-1504
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Perugino, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Italian, 1500-1505
Chicago, Art Institute


  • Others chose a moment in which the woman responds.

Bedford Master and His Workshop, Christ and the Woman
at the Well
from a Book of Hours
_French (Paris), 1430-1435
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M359, fol. 55r

Michelangelo, Christ and the Woman
at the Well
Italian, c. 1540
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery























Anonymous Stained Glass Artist, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Dutch, 17th Century
London, Victoria and Albert Museum
Bernardo Strozzi, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Italian, 1630-1640
Heino, Fondation Honnema

  • Still others chose a moment in which she listens attentively to the words of Jesus.


Attributed to Jasper van der Lanen, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Flemish, c. 1600-1630
Private Collection
Anonymous (Italian School), Christ and the Woman at the Well
Italian, c. 1600
Detroit, Institute of Arts
Ceramic Figurine, Christ and the Woman at the Well
French, First half of 17th Century
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum
Artemisia Gentileschi, Christ and the Woman
at the Well
Italian, mid-1630s
Private Collection




















Matthias Stomer, Christ and the Woman
at the Well
Dutch, c. 1630
Zurich, Kunsthaus Zurich


Guercino, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Italian, 1640-1641
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bronemisza




















Christ and the Woman at the Well
Lay Mass Prayer Book
Prayers at the Last Gospel
French, 1700-1750
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
Nouvelle acquisition latine 84, fol. 51
Adriaen van der Werff, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Dutch, 1702-1722
Private Collection
























Jean Francois de Troy, Christ and the Woman at the Well
French, 1704
Greenville, SC, Museum and Gallery, Bob Jones University
Benedetto Luti, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Italian, 1715-1720
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art





















Georg Raphael Donner, Christ and the Woman
at the Well
Austrian, c. 1737-1738
Vienna, Belvedere Museum

Thomas Schaidhauf, Christ and the Woman at the Well
German, 1750-1800
Fuerstenfeldbruck, Catholic Parish Church
of Saint Mary Magdalene
(formerly the Monastery Church of the Assumption)






















Angelika Kauffmann, Christ and the Woman at the Well
Swiss, 1796
Munich, Neue Pinakotek
Jean Ferdinand Chaigneau, Christ and the Woman at the Well
French, 1857
Bordeaux, Musee des Beaux-Arts
James Tissot, Christ and the Woman at the Well
French, 1886-1892
New York, Brooklyn Museum
Leon Augustin Lhermitte, Christ and the Woman at the Well
French, 1897
New York, Dahesh Museum of Art

All of them present the figures are essentially on a level ground.  Jesus is not larger or very much more active than is the woman.  And she has a dignity that is implied by her bold responses to some of His statements.  One senses a give and take in their encounter that is a trifle different from the encounters shown for most of Jesus’ ministry, most of which involve people pleading for a healing or other action. 

The Missionary

A small number of paintings represent, not the encounter itself, but its aftermath in which the woman reacts to the new understanding she has received.  She is shown engaging with her neighbors, telling them about the things Jesus has told her, or rushing off to town to do it.  Her gestures convey the excitement she feels and the urgency with which she is trying to convey it to her neighbors.

Christ and the Woman at the Well
from a Bible
Egyptian (Damietta), 1178-1180
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Copte 13, fol. 231
Hungarian Master and workshop, Christ and the Woman at the Well
 Single Leaves from Hungarian Anjou Legendary
Italian (Bologna), 1325-1335
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M360, fol. 1
Sebastien Bourdon, Christ and the Woman at the Well
French, 1664-1669
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts
The Well

Student of Rembrandt, Christ and the Woman
at the Well
Dutch, c. 1655
New York, Metropolitan Museum of ARt









Some comments should be made about the well itself.  Most of the time it is simply a well, usually round and made of blocks.  It may be of the simplest type, in which the user throws in a bucket, scoops up some water and pours that into their jug or other kind of vessel.

Carl Kretschmar, Christ and the Woman at
the Well
German, 1821
Berlin, Nationalgalerie der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin







It might have a winch, a device to help raise the bucket of water by using the energy of the coil, or it may have an even older device, called a water sweep or shadoof, that uses a counterweight to assist the lift.  All of these images are simple references to a well.  Some later images use the image of a fountain instead of an actual well for the encounter. 
Attributed to Jean Faur Courrege, Christ and the
Woman at the Well
French, c. 1800
Bordeaux, Musee des Beaux-Arts











Jean Colombe, Christ and the Woman at the Well
from Vita Jesu Christi by Ludolphe of Saxony
French (Bourges), 1475-1500
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 177, fol. 255v











However, a few of the images present a shaped well.  This may take the form of a square or of a hexgon or octogon.  It may even be round.  What makes it obviously different is that the sides are frequently decorated and that there is almost always a rim.

This “well” is actually a reference to the Baptismal font, the place in which souls are given the living water promised by Jesus in His dialogue with the Samaritan woman and, therefore, in close relation with the text of the story. 2


The Saint
Longstanding tradition, especially in the Eastern Churches, both the Orthodox and the Catholic, has given a name to this Samaritan woman, whose encounter with Jesus was so eye-opening.  She is called Photina in the Latin West, Photini in the Greek and Coptic Orthodox and Svetlana in Slavic Orthodoxy.  All these names are taken from the Greek words “the illuminated one”.  And, she is a saint, called in the Orthodox tradition “equal to the Apostles”.
Modern Icon of St. Photini

According to this tradition, as already hinted in the Gospel of John, she became a missionary, first within Samaria and later, following her baptism, in Egypt, where she continued to spread the news of her encounter with the source of the living water.  From Egypt she and her family moved to Rome.  There they were martyred during the first persecution, under Nero.  According to the tradition, her skull is located in the Roman church of San Paolo fuori le Mura (where St. Paul’s body is also interred).  Her feast day in most of the Orthodox churches is February 26 but in some it is March 20, which it also is in the Eastern Catholic Churches.  She is also remembered on the fifth Sunday after Easter (Pascha) in both the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. 3 

She has or had a feast day in the Roman Catholic church as well.  It is March 20, the same as her feast day in the Byzantine Catholic churches.  This makes this year of 2017 an interesting juxtaposition, since this Gospel is read the day before what should be her feast day (overshadowed this year by the transfer of the feast of St. Joseph from the 19th (its proper date).  However, I have been unable to verify that Photina still has a memorial in the Roman calendar.  It is possible that she, along with many other semi-legendary saints, was removed from the calendar following Vatican Council II.   It is likely that it was. 4   
Modern Icon of the Meeting Between Jesus and
the Samaritan Woman

The feast days of many early saints were removed from the calendar of the universal Church in the pruning of multiple saints’ days that followed the Second Vatican Council. Contrary to what is sometimes asserted, removal from the calendar does not mean that the Church has decided that the saint never existed.  It does means that a deliberate choice has been made about which saints’ days should be celebrated universally, rather than in individual countries or dioceses. 5   There are thousands of Catholic saints and not all of them can be celebrated all over the world.  For example, Saint Patrick is someone whom we know actually existed and, for centuries before the formal process of canonization was established, has been revered as a saint and as the “apostle to the Irish”.  However, his name was removed from the main calendar after Vatican II.  It is celebrated in those countries and locations with a special connection to him.  So, therefore, it is not celebrated in Vietnam, for example, but it is celebrated in Ireland and in those other locations around the world where the Irish settled in large numbers.  Hence, every March 17th in New York, the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade processes past Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.6

Abel Grimmer, Christ at the Well of Jacob
Flemish, c. 1590-1619
Enshede, Rijksmuseum Twente
Here we can see her running off, her jug abandoned at the side of the 
well, as Jesus talks to His disciples.
So we can see that saints, especially those from the time of the early centuries of the Church, may have few documentary sources to prove that they existed and, clearly, some of the stories of their lives may have been embroidered over time, but if does not follow that they did not live. It was not until much later in history that an elaborate procedure for canonizing individuals as saints was developed.  The “woman at the well” is someone whose existence, if not her name, is attested to by the Gospel of John, but documentation about her later life is probably sparse, if there is any at all.  Yet, it is highly likely that her encounter with Jesus on that noontime visit to the well, did indeed change her life.  Her immediate action of going into town and telling everyone to come and hear this man who had astonished her suggest that she already had a missionary spirit.  For, in the course of her conversation with Him she had gone from a person seeking to avoid notice, someone in hiding, to someone ready to openly proclaim her experience with Him to the world.  She is thus a model for the very disciples who witnessed her transformation.  They themselves would go from hiding in the aftermath of the Crucifixion and emerge into public proclamation after receiving the spirit at Pentecost.  And, she is a model for us as well.

© M. Duffy, 2017

Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

*  My own, rather free, translation of the inscription which reads "Quae Solita est viles e fante hauvive liquores / Nunc vivas Christi numine promit aquas" is "The solitary one who once sought worthless liquids now lives through the waters of Christ’s eternal promise."  Prints of this time period often carried a poetically phrased reflection on their subject.  This quotation is attributed on the print to a Bartholomeus Schoneus, who contributed similar epigrams to other prints of this time period.


  1. See my comments on this tradition at: http://imaginemdei.blogspot.com/2008/04/further-on-early-christian-sarcophagi.html and http://imaginemdei.blogspot.com/2011/05/good-shepherd-sunday-fourth-sunday-of.html
  2. See my Mary D. Edwards, ‘On Duccio's "Christ and the Woman From Samaria", Painted For The "Maestà"’, Notes in the History of Art, Vol. 29, No. 4 (Summer 2010), pp. 10-15.  See also:  Richard E. Spear, “Artemisia Gentileschi's 'Christ and the woman of Samaria'”, The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 153, No. 1305 (December 2011), pp. 804-805.
  3. For Saint Photina, Greek Orthodox https://www.goarch.org/chapel/saints?contentid=538, Coptic http://suscopts.org/resources/literature/563/the-samaritan-woman-st-photini/, Antiochene http://www.antiochian.org/st-photini-samaritan-woman, Autochephalus Russian Orthodox in America https://oca.org/saints/lives/2020/03/20/100846-martyr-photina-svetlana-the-samaritan-woman-and-her-sons
  4. See also, the Byzantine Catholic liturgical calendar for 2017.  The Fifth Sunday is May 14 this year. http://www.byzcath.org/index.php/resources-mainmenu-63/2017-liturgical-calendar
  5. “The saints have been traditionally honored in the Church and their authentic relics and images held in veneration. For the feasts of the saints proclaim the wonderful works of Christ in His servants, and display to the faithful fitting examples for their imitation. Lest the feasts of the saints should take precedence over the feasts which commemorate the very mysteries of salvation, many of them should be left to be celebrated by a particular Church or nation or family of religious; only those should be extended to the universal Church which commemorate saints who are truly of universal importance.” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Solemnly Promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on December 4, 1963, Chapter IV, article 111. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html.  And see: the Motu Proprio, Mysterii Paschalis (The Paschal Mystery) of Pope Paul VI, dated February 14, 1969, which implemented the changes, specifically Part II, paragraph 3.  http://w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/motu_proprio/documents/hf_p-vi_motu-proprio_19690214_mysterii-paschalis.html
  6. Press Release from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on the New Roman Missal, Intervention of Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccdds/documents/rc_con_ccdds_doc_20020327_card-medina-estevez_it.html