Christ and the Woman of Samaria at the Well,
Painted by Il Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, 1591-1666),
Painted ca. 1640 - 1641,
Oil on canvas
© Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, Madrid
A spring of water welling up to eternal life
Jesus came to the Samaritan town called Sychar, near the land that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well is there and Jesus, tired by the journey, sat straight down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman 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, ‘What? You are a Jew and you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?’ – Jews, in fact, do not associate with Samaritans. Jesus replied:
‘If you only knew what God is offering
and who it is that is saying to you:
Give me a drink, you would have been the one to ask,
and he would have given you living water.’
‘You have no bucket, sir,’ she answered ‘and the well is deep: how could you get this living water? Are you a greater man than our father Jacob who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his sons and his cattle?’ Jesus replied:
‘Whoever drinks this water
will get thirsty again;
but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give
will never be thirsty again:
the water that I shall give
will turn into a spring inside him,
welling up to eternal life.’
‘Sir,’ said the woman ‘give me some of that water, so that I may never get thirsty and never have to come here again to draw water. I see you are a prophet, sir. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, while you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.’
‘Believe me, woman,
the hour is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You worship what you do not know;
we worship what we do know:
for salvation comes from the Jews.
But the hour will come
– in fact it is here already –
when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth:
that is the kind of worshipper the Father wants.
God is spirit,
and those who worship
must worship in spirit and truth.’
The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah – that is, Christ – is coming; and when he comes he will tell us everything.’ ‘I who am speaking to you,’ said Jesus ‘I am he.’
Many Samaritans of that town had believed in him on the strength of the woman’s testimony when she said, ‘He told me all I have ever done’, so, when the Samaritans came up to him, they begged him to stay with them. He stayed for two days, and when he spoke to them many more came to believe; and they said to the woman, ‘Now we no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the saviour of the world.’
Reflection on the painting
The meeting between Christ and the woman of Samaria at the well is recounted only in the Gospel of Saint John. We are told how Christ, travelling to Galilee, reached the Samarian city of Sychar. While the disciples went ahead into the city to buy food, Christ sat down to rest by a well, where he met a woman. Our painting by Guercino depicts a moment of conversation between Christ and the Samaritan woman. The two figures, depicted half-length and in standing pose, are positioned around the well-head at which she has arrived with her pitcher. Note how the pitcher is not painted in realistic terracotta colours, but in the blue tonalities of Christ’s cloak, linking Christ to his stating that he is the ‘living water’.
The encounter takes place on the outskirts of the city which we see in the background. The composition reveals Guercino’s complete mastery of the language of gestures and expressions: see, for example, the mistrustful expression of the woman towards the stranger talking to her, and Christ’s pose, which is particularly expressive through the gesture of his right hand. He is making a point, and the viewer needs to listen! The figure of the Samaritan woman was a well known model whom Guercino used for many of his compositions, including some of his depictions of Our Lady.
The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman shows us something of how Jesus relates to all of us. He meets us where we are and in the ordinariness of our daily lives… and he perseveres in reaching out to us. A couple of chapters later on in John’s gospel, Jesus continues on the theme of water, saying ‘Let anyone who is thirsty, come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink’. He wants us to drink the living water, so that it may well up into eternal life deep inside us!
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Readings related to John 4:5-16,19-26,39-42
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Maravilloso como el manto de Jesús en la pintura es relacionado con el agua viva de que habla a la samaritana. Y su mano con los dedos en posición de Divino Maestro recogiendo el manto como para dárselo a la misma. Qué misericordia. Amado Jesús danos el agua viva que viene de tí ❤️🙏✝️
Este Evangelio me encanta. La samaritana junto al pozo, al mediodía en esa conversación que cambiaría su vida para siempre. Es el encuentro con Jesús que cambia la vida, que la llena y le da un propósito. En el peregrinar de esta vida solo Jesús puede llenar nuestro corazón y darnos la fuerza para cada día.
Si Maria! Solo Jesus!
el manto azul-agua de Jesús parece quere saltarse hacia la mujer y Jesús lo está saltando de a poco… como el mismo progreso del diálogo.
I love the scepticism in the woman, both in the painting and in her words…you don’t have a bucket. We always have that grain of doubt eh?
Increase our faith Lord.
Happy Sunday all.
This is probably my favourite Gospel story of all. The painting is very stylised for me, but the detail of the fabrics, and the colours, are astonishing. ‘Lord You know all I have done in my life, nothing is hidden from You. Yet You meet me where I am, in need of that water that comes only from You. Water the desert of my heart, that I may never be thirsty again. Amen.’
Did you write that prayer Spacey?
Perhaps you don’t like that little abbreviation? Please say…..
I particularly like the comment about the pitcher turning (as it were) from terracotta to blue. If you stand next to Jesus, what you hold in your hands is changed to His glory. What do I hold in my hands and have I noticed what he is changing or has changed?
Yes I love this idea too!
I also love the beautiful painting of expressions and gestures, and the blue pitcher. Artists often repeat a colour in a painting to give it more unity, but in this case it really adds to the meaning.
So it was John that witnessed this encounter and wrote it down? Or did he hear about it later?
Jesus is very specific about who He is and what He brings us – living water.
I often wonder what a secular person would make of some of these Bible readings. Usually people have dismissed them without reading but what would they say about this one? It seems to me that they are either ‘the Truth’ or just apocryphal stories from the time?
I have often wondered about the stories where Jesus is alone with someone. It says clearly here that the woman went back to her village and spoke to people, they begged Jesus to stay. So plenty of witnesses there. Maybe only John noted this event because the Gospels were written many years later of course. And then of course we have the Holy Spirit… I don’t worry too much about the historical truth of these stories, to me God wants us to know them and use them as models for living our lives. It is pretty easy to see the difference between a parable and an event- they are clearly marked. I don’t think we can pick and choose but just use.
But John’s Gospel is not synoptic? Perhaps others can explain more about the significance of this?