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Art for Meditation - November 2023

GG 19xVeronese, Paolo Caliari said the (Verona 1528 - Venice 1588), Christ and the Samaritan, about 1585, oil on canvas, 143.5 x 288.3 cm, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Month of November.

Women of the New Testament: the Samaritan.

He had to pass through Samaria. So he 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 Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything." Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking with you." (John 4, 4-26)


Paolo Veronese, as far as the Gospel story is concerned, imagined Jacob's well to be located not near the city but rather in the open countryside, as witnessed by the beautiful landscape within which we see the two main characters of the story: on the left Jesus, who is seated, and on the right the Samaritan woman who has just arrived to fill her bucket at the well.

In the background some figures are shown- the disciples? other Samaritans? - who, however, do not interfere at all with what is happening in the foreground.

The absolute protagonists, as we said, are Jesus and a woman, and what is more, a woman from Samaria. If we look carefully at the scene in the foreground, we notice first of all a profound difference in the way they approach to each other (and vice versa). Jesus is sitting, he is resting, he looks at the woman and turns to her, even with the gesture of his left hand, to ask her for a drink. The woman is all intent on her work: she has come to the well to draw water and she is quite at a loss that a Jew should speak to her. She is not rude, but seems to keep to herself, perhaps because she fears, if she were to reply, that she would be doing something improper in relation to herself and her people.

The painting thus seems to bring us to the moment when Jesus has asked the woman for a drink but the woman has not yet answered him. Shortly afterwards, the dialogue that we know and can read at the beginning of this page begins. The two figures face each other but have not yet entered into relation. And it is precisely the great dignity that is given to the woman - the Master's sole interlocutor - that strikes and fascinates us. Even the beauty of her dress and the accuracy with which certain details are rendered (the studied presence of a veil knotted in her beautiful curly hair, the fringes of what may appear to be a yellow damask shawl) seem to indicate that the woman is truly the protagonist of the scene.

The painter seems to have redeemed the subordinate role that women in general - but also the Samaritan woman in this case - had at the time of Jesus, but also - with some exceptions - at the time of Veronese himself.

Both, Jesus and the Samaritan woman, place their left foot on the edge of the well, as if to signify that both are in the tradition of the Patriarchs. The genealogy of Jesus finds Jacob in the third place (cf. Mt 1:2), while the story of the Samaritan people refers precisely to the Patriarchs, claiming to be the true chosen people because they were spared of the contamination of deportation to Babylon.

The enmity between Israelites and Samaritans - which transpires from the woman's words of amazement at the fact that Jesus addressed her - is thus overcome by the fact that they both find themselves around the same well, from which they draw water to quench their thirst. And the fact that it was precisely a woman who crossed this boundary makes the beautiful dialogue that develops, from Jesus' question, between the two even more extraordinary and exceptional.

(Contribution by Vito Pongolini)