Sunday, August 17, 2014

IIlustrating Miracles: The Canaanite Woman

Jean-Germain Drouais, The Canaanite Woman
French, 1763
Rennes, Musée 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)

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.

Miracle of the Canaanite Woman
From the Codex Egberti
German (Reichenau), c. 977-993
Trier, Stadtbibliothek
Ms 24, fol. 35v
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 only to 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.

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

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.

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

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, Musée Condé
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.)

Juan de Flandes, The Canaanite Woman
Flemish, c. 1500
Madrid, Patrimonio Nacional

Hans Vischer, The Canaanite Woman Approaches Jesus
German, 1543
Munich, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum

Leonard Gaultier, The Canaanite Woman
From Scenes from the New Testament
French, c. 1576-1580
Washington, National Gallery of Art

Abraham Bloemaert, The Canaanite Woman Kneels Before Jesus
Flemish, Late 16th-Mid 17th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

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.)

Annibale Carracci,   Miracle of the Canaanite Woman
Italian, c. 1594-1595
Parma, Pinacoteca Stuard
(This lovely image shows the moment when she pleads that the dogs eat the scraps that fall from their master's table.  Annibale Carracci was one of the most influential painters of the transformation of the sixteenth century Mannerist style into the seventeenth century Baroque style.  This painting became the model for many others in the early years of the seventeenth century.)

Pieter Pieterszoon Lastman, Miracle of the Canaanite Woman
Dutch, 1617
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
Dogs by this time have become an important prop to remind viewers of the woman's statement  of belief.

Pietro del Po After Annibale Carracci, The Miracle of the Canaanite Woman
Italian, c. 1650
Philadelphia, Museum of Art

Giovan Gioseffo dal Sole, Christ and the Canaanite Woman
Italian, Late 17th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Jean-Germain Drouais, Miracle of the Canaanite Woman
French, 1784
Paris, Musée du Louvre
(This is a second, later, version of the same scene by Drouais in the collection of the Musée 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.)

Johann Friedrich Ludwig Oeser After Francois Verdier, Miracle of the Canaanite Woman
German, Before 1792
Philadelphia, Museum of Art

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.) 

Dominicus Custos, The Canaanite Woman
From Series of Women from the New Testament
Flemish, c. 1580-1610
Philadelphia, Museum of Art
This image is particularly interesting in that it focuses on the woman herself, not on the full story, as most other images do.  It comes from a series of engravings of the Women of the New Testament, an emphasis that is rather unusual.

© M. Duffy, 2014, updated 2020


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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