Hans Memling (Selingenstadt 1433 approx. - Bruges 1494), Madonna and Child, 1487, oil of oak, 54.6 x 43.2 cm, Berlin, Gemäldegalerie.
Month of January.
Women of the New Testament: Mary.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
Albrecht Dürer (Norimberga 1471 – 1528), Eva, 1507, oil on board, cm 209 x 80 cm, Madrid, Prado Museum.
Month of December.
Women of the Old Testament: Eve.
Then God said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground." God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying: "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth." God also said: "See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food." And so it happened. God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed - the sixth day.
Denys Calvaert (Antwerp 1540 ca. – Bologna 1619), Abraham and the Three Angels, ca. 1600, oil on canvas, 147 x 161 cm, Madrid, Prado Museum.
Month of November.
Women of the Old Testament: Sarah.
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent, while the day was growing hot. Looking up, he saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them; and bowing to the ground, he said: "Sir, if I may ask you this favor, please do not go on past your servant. Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet, and then rest yourselves under the tree. Now that you have come this close to your servant, let me bring you a little food, that you may refresh yourselves; and afterward you may go on your way." "Very well," they replied, "do as you have said." Abraham hastened into the tent and told Sarah, "Quick, three seahs of fine flour! Knead it and make rolls." He ran to the herd, picked out a tender, choice steer, and gave it to a servant, who quickly prepared it. Then he got some curds and milk, as well as the steer that had been prepared, and set these before them; and he waited on them under the tree while they ate. "Where is your wife Sarah?" they asked him. "There in the tent," he replied. One of them said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son." Sarah was listening at the entrance of the tent, just behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years, and Sarah had stopped having her womanly periods.So Sarah laughed to herself and said, "Now that I am so withered and my husband is so old, am I still to have sexual pleasure?" But the LORD said to Abraham: "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Shall I really bear a child, old as I am?’ Is anything too marvelous for the LORD to do? At the appointed time, about this time next year, I will return to you, and Sarah will have a son." Because she was afraid, Sarah dissembled, saying, "I didn't laugh." But he said, "Yes you did." (Gen 18:1-15)
Palma il Vecchio, Jacopo Nigretti de Lavalle (Serina ca. 1480 - Venice 1528), Jacob and Rachel, ca. 1524/25, oil on canvas, 146,5 x 250,5 cm, Dresde, Gemäldegalerie.
Month of October.
Women of the Old Testament: Rachel.
Then Jacob continued on his journey and came to the land of the eastern peoples. There he saw a well in the open country, with three flocks of sheep lying near it because the flocks were watered from that well. The stone over the mouth of the well was large. When all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone away from the well’s mouth and water the sheep. Then they would return the stone to its place over the mouth of the well. Jacob asked the shepherds, “My brothers, where are you from?” “We’re from Harran,” they replied. He said to them, “Do you know Laban, Nahor’s grandson?” “Yes, we know him,” they answered. Then Jacob asked them, “Is he well?” “Yes, he is,” they said, “and here comes his daughter Rachel with the sheep”.“Look,” he said, “the sun is still high; it is not time for the flocks to be gathered. Water the sheep and take them back to pasture.” “We can’t,” they replied, “until all the flocks are gathered and the stone has been rolled away from the mouth of the well. Then we will water the sheep.”
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)