Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ilustrating Miracles: The Canaanite Woman

Jean-Germain Drouais, The Canaanite Woman
French, 1763
Rennes, Musee des Beaux-Arts
At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 
And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out,
“Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! 
My daughter is tormented by a demon.” 
But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. 
Jesus’ disciples came and asked him,
“Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.”
He said in reply,
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” 
He said in reply,
“It is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs.” 
She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters.” 
Then Jesus said to her in reply,
“O woman, great is your faith! 
Let it be done for you as you wish.” 
And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.”
Matthew 15:21-28 (Gospel for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)*

Anonymous, Miracle of the Canaanite Woman
from Sermons of Maurice de Sully
Italian, ca. 1320-1330
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 187, fol. 9v

This is one of the more curious miracles of Jesus, probably chosen for inclusion by Matthew from among many other possible cures because of its important statement of faith by a non-Jew.  

Masters of Otto Moerdrecht, Miracle of the Canaanite Woman
from Picture Bible
Dutch (Utrecht), ca. 1430
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliothek
MS 78 D 38 II, fol.164v
(In this image, the Apostles clearly make their annoyance visible.)

Her persistence and her statement of humble faith, accepting  of her non-Jewish status, yet confident that the love of God is not to be confined to one only the chosen people, earns the favor that she begged.    

To the early Christian community, unsure about its relationship with Judaism, this was in important reminder.  And it continues to be an important reminder to us.

However, in spite of its importance, not many artists seem to have chosen to illustrate the less well known miracles of Jesus, such as this miracle of the Canaanite woman seeking the cure of her tormented daughter.   Those I was able to uncover in a fairly intensive search of internet resources cluster in two time periods, the later middle ages and the Baroque. 

Both eras were relatively confident periods, not peaceful (what era ever has been?) but not riven by the kinds of problems that foster uneasy beliefs, as was, for instance, the intervening period of the Reformation. 

The examples from the late middle ages all come from illuminated manuscripts, while the Baroque and later examples are primarily oil paintings.
Most focus on the encounter between the woman and Jesus, although most also include onlooking apostles.  A few also feature other figures, such as the woman’s daughter and servants, and may even include a dog as a reminder of the text of the Gospel passage. And, as time went on, the level of drama increased. 

Jean Colombe, Miracle of the Canaanite Woman
from Tres Riches Heures of the Duke of Berry
Flemish, ca. 1485
Chantilly, Musee de Conde
MS DB 65, fol. 164 r
(In this image Jesus is shown three times.  First, He is shown turning away, deaf to her pleas.  Then, He is shown
right next to the first image, paying attention to her.  Finally, at the bottom, He is shown promising her daughter's healing.
The daughter is also shown in the right corner of the upper image.  She is lying in bed, being attended by a maid.)

Anonymous, Miracle of the Canaanite Woman
Italian, early 17th century
Toulouse, Musee des Augustins
(This lovely anonymous image shows the moment when
she pleads that the dogs eat the scraps that fall from 
their master's table.)

Giovan Gioseffo dal Sole, Miracle of the Canaanite Woman
Italian, late 17th century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
(This image shows the moment in which Jesus tells her
that her faith has gained her request.)

Jean-Germain Drouais, Miracle of the Canaanite Woman
French, 1784
Paris, Musee du Louvre

(This is a second, later, version of the same scene by Drouais in the collection of the Musee des Beaux-Arts at Rennes.
Both show the dramatic moment in which Jesus both grants her request and shields her from the Apostles protests. And, both

also show the effects of early archaeological explorations, with their inclusion of a pyramid next to a classical building.)

James Tissot, Jesus and the Canaanite Woman
French, 1888-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum
(This interesting late 19th-century image by Tissot shows the moment in 
a more archaeologically correct setting and costume.)

 © M. Duffy, 2104

*  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.

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