Sunday, July 14, 2019

Illustrating the Parables: The Good Samaritan: Compassion In Action

Bernardino Poccetti, Good Samaritan
Italian, c. 1590
Florence, VIlla Torre di Bellosguardo

“There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test Jesus and said,
"Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus said to him, "What is written in the law?
How do you read it?"
He said in reply,
"You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your being,
with all your strength,
and with all your mind,
and your neighbor as yourself."

He replied to him, "You have answered correctly;
do this and you will live."

But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus,
"And who is my neighbor?"
Jesus replied,
"A man fell victim to robbers
as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.
They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.
A priest happened to be going down that road,
but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
Likewise a Levite came to the place,
and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him
was moved with compassion at the sight.
He approached the victim,
poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them.
Then he lifted him up on his own animal,
took him to an inn, and cared for him.
The next day he took out two silver coins
and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction,
'Take care of him.
If you spend more than what I have given you,
I shall repay you on my way back.'
Which of these three, in your opinion,
was neighbor to the robbers' victim?"
He answered, "The one who treated him with mercy."
Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
Luke 10:25-37, Gospel for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C,
July 14, 2019

There is little doubt that one of the best known of the parables of Jesus is that of the Good Samaritan.  This is obvious even in everyday conversation.  The term “Good Samaritan” comes up frequently, whenever there is a news story about a stranger stepping in to help someone in distress.  Everyone seems to understand what is meant and no one seems offended that this is term is derived from a story told by Jesus in the Gospels.

Since the story is well known it has been illustrated many times in the history of Christian art. 

The Gospels of Otto III

One of the most charming, and thorough, illustrations of the story occurs in the beautiful manuscript known as the Gospel Book of Otto III.  Otto III was the Holy Roman Emperor at the turn of the eleventh century.  The manuscript was executed in the monastery of Reichenau, situated on an island in Lake Constanze, in what is today Germany.  Reichenau was one of the most important centers of early medieval painting.  And this charming page from the Gospel Book of Otto III shows why.  
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
From the Gospel Book of Otto III
German (Reichenau), c. 1000
Munich, Bayeerisches StaatsBibliothek
MS Clm 4453, fol. 161v

It depicts the story of the Good Samaritan in several different scenes, each clearly delineated from the other, but creating a sort of flow of energy from one scene to the next.  We see the unfortunate traveler at the top. He is mounted on a horse and wears a blue tunic and green cloak.  In the middle of the picture he is set upon by a gang of robbers, two of whom beat him with clubs, while a third tries to spear him and a fourth steals his horse.  At the bottom left of the page, the traveler is tended by the passing Samaritan, who wears a yellow tunic and brown cloak and who seems to have a sort of tonsured haircut.  At the left he is shown giving the wounded traveler something near his mouth, possibly food or possibly an ointment for a cut.  In the middle of the bottom page we see the wounded traveler seated on the Samaritan’s horse, strapped into some kind of device to keep him seated upright on the horse.  At the far right of the bottom page, the Samaritan is shown giving money to the innkeeper for the traveler’s upkeep. 

Other Medieval Images

This attention to telling the full story seems to have been fairly common during the middle ages.  One hundred years after the Reichenau painting, one of the capitals of the major Romanesque church of Moissac displayed different parts of the story on each of the sides of the capital of a column in the nave of the church.   
Capital with the Parable of the Good Samaritan
French, c. 1100
Moissac, Abbey of Saint-Pierre

About one hundred years after the Moissac column, the story appeared in the Picture Bible prepared at the Monastery of St. Bertin located at Saint-Omer in Northern France.  The illustration shows the traveler being attacked, the priest and the Levite passing by and finally the Samaritan leading the victim on his horse after having bound up the traveler's wounds.
Parable of the Good Samaritan
From Picture Bible
French (St. Omer), c. 1190-1200
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 76 F 5, fol. 17v
Early in the thirteenth century it appeared in a series of vignettes in one of the stained glass windows at the Cathedral of Chartres. 
Scenes from the Parable of the Good Samaritan
French, c. 1205-1215
Chartres, Cathedral
Later it appeared as two separate pictures in the beautiful Book of Hours illuminated by the artist Jean Colombe for Anne of France, daughter of King Louis XI and regent after his death for her young brother, Charles VIII, making her one of the most influential women of the late Medieval/early Renaissance period in France.
Jean Colombe and Workshop, Man Attacked by Robbers
From Hours of Anne of France
French (Bourges), c. 1473
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 677, fol. 290v
Jean Colombe and Workshop, Good Samaritan at the Inn
From Hours of Anne of France
French (Bourges), 1473
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 677, fol. 298r

The Samaritan’s First Action

After this, the depiction of the “whole story” seems to have been abandoned for an approach to the story that focused more on the actions of the Samaritan than on any other aspects of the story.   Most popular were pictures that focused on the immediate actions of the Samaritan to help the victim.  They became popular during the late Renaissance and Baroque periods.  Since most show the body of the victim as stripped and nearly naked the popularity of this portion of the story may be that it afforded a respectable opportunity to depict the human body.  This was a theme in the art of these periods, deriving from the study of classical Greco-Roman sculpture, much of which was being retrieved from long burial in the ruins of antiquity. 

This pretty much dominated the story of the Good Samaritan from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries.  
Master of the Good Samaritan, The Good Samaritan
Dutch, 1537
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
Jacopo Bassano, The Good Samaritan
Italian, c. 1562-1563
London, National Gallery
Veronese, The Good Samaritan
Italian, c. 1582-1586
Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meisters
Cornelis van Haarlem, The Good Samaritan
Dutch, 1627
Private Collection
Joachim von Sandrart, The Good Samaritan
German, 1632
Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera
Daniel Bretschneider the Younger, The Good Samaritan
German, 1635
Detroit, Institute of Arts
Johan Carl Loth, The Good Samaritan
German, 1650-1700
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
Joseph Highmore, The Good Samaritan
English, 1744
London, The Tate Gallery
Jean Francois Millet, The Good Samaritan
French, 1846
Cardiff, National Museum Wales
George Frederic Watts. The Good Samaritan
English, c. 1849-1904
Guildford, Surrey (UK), Walls Gallery--Artists' Village
Eugene Delacroix, The Good Samaritan
French, 1852
London, Victotia and Albert Museum
Ferdinand Hodler, The Good Samaritan
Swiss, 1875
Zürich, Kunsthaus Zürich
James Tissot, The Good Samaritan
French, c. 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum
Heidel Moritz. The Good Samaritan
German, 1892
Dresden, Print Collection
Heinrich Nauen, The Good Samaritan
German, 1914
Cologne, Museum Ludwig

Over time additional figures were added, assisting the Samaritan.  Some figures obviously represent servants, but some seem to be more like members of a larger traveling party, suggesting that the Samaritan was a member of a larger group, an idea not found in the Gospel account.
Francesco Bassano, The Good Samaritan
Italian, c. 1575
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches
Giovanni Battista Langetti, The Good Samaritan
Italian, c. 1650-1660
 Private Collection
Giovanni Battista Langetti, The Good Samaritan
Italian, c. 1660-1676
Bath (UK), The Holburn Museum
Theodule-Augustin Ribot, The Good Samaritan
French, Before 1870
Pau, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Max Liebermann, The Good Samaritan
German, 1911
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud

Occasionally also the landscape, which became an element of the story beginning in the fifteenth century, came to dominate the story, which became an almost unnoticed element within it.
Herri met de Bles, Landscape with the Parable of the Good Samaritan
Flemish, c.  1540
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
Paolo Fiammingo, The Good Samaritan
Flemich, c. 1570
Southend-on-Sea, Essex (UK), Beecroft Art Gallery
Follower of Adam Elsheimer, The Good Samaritan
German, c. 1600-1660
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
Alexander Keirincx, Landscape with the Good Samaritan
Dutch, c. 1620-1630
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum
Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, The Good Samaritan
French, c. 1842
Cleveland, Museum of Art
Heinrich Dreber, The Good Samaritan
German, 1848
Dresden, Gemäldegalerie der Alte Meisters
Johann Wilhelm Schirmer, Landscape with the Good Samaritan
German, c. 1860
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud

The Priest and the Levite

Less frequently depicted were some of the other aspects of the story.  One of the least frequently depicted aspects of the story was a focus on the role played (or, rather, not played) by the Temple priest and the Levite who passed the victim by.  This is, in fact, one of the most important aspects of the parable, for the assumption is that the victim is Jewish, traveling out of Jerusalem.  The priest and the Levite are Jewish too and would, therefore, be presumed to be the most likely to help him.  However, their concerns for their own persons, for their own purity, prevent them from aiding him and cause them to pass him by “on the opposite side” of the road.  Only the Samaritan, a member of the group despised by most Jews as practicing an early, divergent form of Judaism, was “moved with compassion” and stopped to help.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
From the Ottheinrich Bibel, Vol. 3
German (Regensburg), c. 1430
Munich, Bayerisches StaatsBibliothek
MS Cgm 8010(3), fol. 12r
Jan Rombouts, The Levite in the Parable
Flemish, c. 1525-1530
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gustav Jaeger, The Parable of the Good Samaritan as Symbol for Humanity
German, c. 1844-1848
Weimar, Ducal Palace Herderzimmer

Sometimes the figures of those who passed by are the primary subjects of the picture, but more often they are seen as figures in the distance, walking away from the suffering man, even as the Samaritan helps him.

Jan Wijnants or Adriaen van de Velde, The Good Samaritan
Dutch, c. 1670
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum
William Hogarth and George Lambert, The Good Samaritan
English, c. 1737-1737
London, St. Bartholemew's Hospital Museum and Archive
Francis Hayman, The Good Samaritan
English, c. 1751-1752
New Haven, Yale Center for British Art
John Runciman, The Good Samaritan
English, c. 1765
Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland
Willilam Etty. The Good Samaritan
English, 1838
Cambridge (UK), National Trust, Anglesey Abbey

Transporting the Injured

Another part of the story which inspired little in the way of illustration was the Samaritan’s act of placing the victim “on his own animal”.  
Attributed to Domenico Fetti, The Good Samaritan
Italian, c. 1618-1622
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Domenico Fetti, The Good Samaritan
Italian, c. 1623
Venice, Galleria dell'Accademia

Domenico Fetti, The Good Samaritan
Itaian, c. 1619-1621
Dresden, Gemäldegalerie der Alte Meisters
Domenico Fetti, The Good Samaritan
Italian, c. 1622
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts

Save for a series of paintings of the subject done by the studio of Domenico Fetti around 1620, this has not been a popular subject.  The Fetti Studio pictures all feature the identical figures, set in the same landscape, which is seen in wide or narrow view, but with varying details.  They are dispersed in museums on both sides of the Atlantic. 

In the second half of the nineteenth century there was another spurt of paintings depicting this action by some of the most forward looking artists of the time.
Alexandre Daumier, The Good Samaritan
French, c. 1850-1860
Glasgow, The Burrell Collection
John La Farge, Study for a Memorial Window, Trinity Church, Buffalo, NY
American, c. 1888
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts
Vincent van Gogh (after Delacroix), The Good Samaritan
Dutch, 1890
Otterlo, Rijksmuseum Kroeller-Mueller

The Scene at the Inn

Finally, a very small group of artists have depicted the final scene in the parable, where the Samaritan brings the victim to the inn and gives the innkeeper money to take care of the victim as he continues his own journey.

The Good Samaritan at the Inn
From a Psalter
French (Paris), c. 1200-1225
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 1392, fol. 5
The Good Samaritan at the Inn
From Sermons of Maurice de Sully
Italian (Milan or Genoa), c. 1320-1330
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francaise 187, fol. 23v
Rembrandt van Rijn_The Good Samaritan at the Inn
Dutch, 1630
London, Wallace Collection
Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, The Good Samaritan at the Inn
French, By 1853
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Phillip Richard Morris, The Good Samaritan at the Inn
English, 1857
Blackburn (Lancashire, UK), Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery

Who Is My Neighbor?

One thing that all these various illustrations have in common is the care and sympathy shown by the figure representing the Samaritan for the figure who is the victim.  This care and sympathy derives from the words of Jesus in this Gospel.  By making the compassionate person a member of a despised minority within Palestine, Jesus reminds us all that our neighbor is the person whom we meet who needs our help, not just the person next door.  It is the stranger who may command our compassion and mercy, not only the members of our own family group or clan.

© M. Duffy 2019

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 comment:

Christina Bradley said...

Wow, I love the in depth research and multiple examples. Fascinating post!