Konrad Witz (Rottweil c. 1400 - Basel c. 1445), The Queen of Sheba before Solomon, c. 1435, oil on oak, 85.8 x 80.3 cm, Berlin, Gemäldegalerie.
Month of September.
Women of the Old Testament: The Queen of Sheba.
The Queen of Sheba, hearing of Solomon's fame, came to test him with subtle questions. She arrived in Jerusalem with a very numerous retinue, and with camels bearing spices, a large amount of gold, and precious stones. She came to Solomon and questioned him on every subject in which she was interested. King Solomon explained everything she asked about, and there remained nothing hidden from him that he could not explain to her.
Jan van Scorel (Schoorl 1495 - Utrecht 1562), Ruth and Naomi in the Field of Boaz, 1530/40, oil on canvas, 70.5 cm x 57.5 cm, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Month of August.
Women of the Old Testament: Ruth and Naomi.
Ruth’s story is told in just four chapters. A small book, bearing her name, for a big story; a small book featuring two women: Ruth and Naomi, her mother-in-law. The two women’s destinies intersect in Moab, where Naomi has emigrated with her husband from Bethlehem to escape the famine. There the two sons get married, and one of the two brides is Ruth. After the death of her husband and children, Naomi (who changes her name: no longer Naomi = joy, gladness, but Mara = bitter, unhappy) returns to Israel and leaves her two daughters-in-law free.
Luca Giordano (Naples, Italy 1634 – 1705), The Prudent Abigail, 1696-97, oil on canvas, 216 cm x 362 cm, Madrid, Prado Museum
Month of July.
Women in the Old Testament: Abigail
Abigail hastily took two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep ready prepared, five measures of roasted grain, a hundred bunches of raisins and two hundred cakes of figs and loaded them on donkeys. She said to her servants, ‘Go on ahead, I shall follow you’ -- but she did not tell her husband Nabal. As she was riding her donkey down behind a fold in the mountain, David and his men happened to be coming down in her direction; and she met them. […]
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (Seville, Spain 1618 – 1682), Rebecca and Eliezer, ca. 1660, oil on canvas, 108 cm x 151.5 cm, Madrid, Prado Museum
Month of June.
Women in the Old Testament: Rebecca.
The servant took ten of his master’s camels and, carrying all kinds of gifts from his master, set out for the city of Nahor in Aram Naharaim. In the evening, at the time when women come out to draw water, he made the camels kneel outside the town near the well. And he said, 'Lord, God of my master Abraham, give me success today and show faithful love to my master Abraham. While I stand by the spring as the young women from the town come out to draw water, I shall say to one of the girls, ‘Please lower your pitcher and let me drink.’ And if she answers, ‘Drink, and I shall water your camels too,’ let her be the one you have decreed for your servant Isaac; by this I shall know you have shown faithful love to my master’. He had not finished speaking when out came Rebecca -- who was the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor -- with a pitcher on her shoulder. The girl was very beautiful, and a virgin; no man had touched her. She went down to the spring, filled her pitcher and came up again. Running towards her, the servant said, ‘Please give me a sip of water from your pitcher.’ She replied, ‘Drink, my lord,’ and quickly lowered her pitcher on her arm and gave him a drink. When she had finished letting him drink, she said, ‘I shall draw water for your camels, too, until they have had enough’ (Genesis 24:10-19).
Jacopo del Sellaio (Florence, Italy 1442 – 1493), The Triumph of Mordecai, around 1485, tempera on wood, 44.5 cm x 60 cm, Florence, Italy, Uffizi Gallery.
Month of May.
Women in the Old Testament: Esther.
The story of Esther is told in the book of the same name in the Bible. It consists of 10 short chapters which tell of Aman, a powerful prince at the court of King Ahasuerus (better known by the name of Xerxes), and his evil intention to destroy all the Jews living on Persian territory, in order to take revenge on Mordecai, a Jew who had refused to bow down at his feet.
©Pinacoteca di Brera, Milano
Giovan Francesco Barbieri, known as Guercino (Cento, Italy 1591 – Bologna, Italy 1666), Abraham Casting Out Hagar and Ishmael, 1657, oil on canvas, 115 cm x 152 cm, Milano, Italy, Pinacoteca di Brera.
Month of April.
Women in the Old Testament: Hagar.
The origin of this painting is well known. It was commissioned by the community of Cento, who wanted to pay homage to the cardinal legate of Ferrara, Lorenzo Imperiali. We do not know the reason for the choice of subject, but we do know that what the painting shows us is narrated in chapter 21 of the Book of Genesis. Already in chapter 16 it is recounted that Sarah, Abraham’s wife, unable to have children, suggested to her husband that he give a son to his slave Hagar so that her husband could have an offspring. This is fulfilled and, although there is some tension between the two women, it is smoothed over by the intervention of the angel of the Lord. “Hagar bore Abraham a son, and Abraham gave his son borne by Hagar the name Ishmael. Abraham was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael” (Gen 16:15-16).
Sandro Botticelli (Florence, Italy 1445 – 1510), The Return of Judith to Bethulia, 1572, tempera on board, 31 cm x 25 cm, Florence, Uffizi Gallery
Month of March.
Women in the Old Testament: Judith.
The whole story of Judith is told in the short book of the Bible that bears her name. In 16 chapters, the story narrates the descent of the Assyrian army on Israel, the pride and arrogance shown by Holofernes, Nebuchadnezzar’s supreme commander, and his decision to lay siege to the city of Bethulia, occupying in particular the Israelites’ aqueducts and water sources.
Jacopo Robusti, known as Tintoretto (Venice 1518 – 1594), Susanna Bathing, around 1555-56, oil on canvas, 187 cm x 220 cm, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Month of February.
Women in the Old Testament: Susanna.
In Babylon there lived a man named Joakim. He had married Susanna, daughter of Hilkiah, a woman of great beauty; and she was God-fearing, because her parents were worthy people and had instructed their daughter in the Law of Moses. Joakim was a very rich man, and had a garden attached to his house; the Jews would often visit him since he was held in greater respect than any other man. Two elderly men had been selected from the people that year to act as judges. Of such the Lord said, ‘Wickedness has come to Babylon through the elders and judges posing as guides to the people’. These men were often at Joakim’s house, and all who were engaged in litigation used to come to them. At midday, when everyone had gone, Susanna used to take a walk in her husband’s garden. (Daniel 13:1-7)
©Museo Nacional del Prado ©Archivo Fotográfico Museo Nacional del Prado
Paolo Caliari, known as Paolo Veronese (Verona, Italy 1528 – Venice, Italy 1588), The Finding of Moses, around 1580, oil on canvas, 57 cm x 43 cm, Madrid, Spain, Prado Museum
Month of January.
Women in the Old Testament: Pharaoh’s daughter
There was a man descended from Levi who had taken a woman of Levi as his wife. She conceived and gave birth to a son and, seeing what a fine child he was, she kept him hidden for three months. When she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him; coating it with bitumen and pitch, she put the child inside and laid it among the reeds at the River's edge. His sister took up position some distance away to see what would happen to him. Now Pharaoh's daughter went down to bathe in the river, while her maids walked along the riverside. Among the reeds she noticed the basket, and she sent her maid to fetch it. She opened it and saw the child: the baby was crying. Feeling sorry for it, she said, 'This is one of the little Hebrews.' The child's sister then said to Pharaoh's daughter, 'Shall I go and find you a nurse among the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?' 'Yes,' said Pharaoh's daughter, and the girl went and called the child's own mother. Pharaoh's daughter said to her, 'Take this child away and nurse it for me. I shall pay you myself for doing so.' So the woman took the child away and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter who treated him like a son; she named him Moses 'because', she said, 'I drew him out of the water.' (Exodus 2:1-10)
© Brukenthal National Museum
Jacob Jordaens (Antwerp, Belgium 1593 – 1678), The Holy Family, around 1625-30, oil on canvas, 113.1 cm x 118.5 cm, Sibiu, Romania, Brukenthal National Museum.
Month of December.
With this reflection, we conclude this journey we undertook by the figure of Saint Joseph, who was the guardian of the Holy Family. We do so with the help of a painting which is in some ways exceptional. It was done by one of Antwerp's most important painters, second in fame only to the great Peter Paul Rubens, whose main collaborator he became after Anthony Van Dick's departure for Italy.
© KHM-Museumsverband - https://www.khm.at/en/objectdb/detail/318/?offset=2&lv=list
Agnolo di Cosimo, known as Bronzino (Monticelli, Italy 1503 – Florence, Italy 1572), Holy Family with St. Anne and the Infant St. John, around 1540, oil on poplar wood, 126.8 cm x 101.5 cm, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Month of November.
Today we contemplate on this mature painting by Bronzino, who became one of the favourite painters of the Medici, the family that ruled Florence. The fact that the painter was by then famous is also shown by the signature: on the stone under the left foot of Jesus we can read BROZINO FIORENTINO (Bronzino of Florence).
Image © website Museo Nacional del Prado
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (Seville, Spain 1617 – 1682), The Holy Family with a Little Bird, around 1650, oil on canvas, 144 cm x 188 cm, Madrid, Spain, Prado Museum.
Month of October.
Contemplating this painting always brings great joy, because the painter favoured the simple, everyday dimension of the life of Jesus' family. They had finally returned to Nazareth, as evidenced by the carpenter's tools on the right side of the scene.