The Samaritan Woman at the Well
I recently came across Simon Dewey’s painting of the woman at the well entitled Living Water. This was not the woman I remembered from art I’d seen previously. I pulled my copy of Carl Bloch’s Samaritan Woman out of storage for comparison. Dewey’s Samaritan is seated at his feet in an attitude of humility and deference, engrossed, with the tools of her task ignored at the side of the well. Her vessel becomes a receptacle for living waters rather than the waters of the well. It’s very idyllic. Every pose and facial expression is idealized: magnanimous generosity, rapt adoration fixated on every word, warm colors give it a golden glow.
By the way, were there palm trees in Samaria? I doubt it had the European idyllic look from Bloch’s painting. I’m curious to know what the actual landscape might have looked like.
Carl Bloch’s Samaritan is posed in the act of drawing her water vessel from the well and listens to Christ speak from his place in the shade as she goes about her task. Perhaps she looks a bit incredulous as He reveals her own past to her. She seems very real to me. Christ also seems very real, even with the halo that symbolizes His divinity.
My question is this: Is this piece representative of attitudes toward women or about women? Has this changed over time within art pieces used or commissioned by or associated with the church? Is art reflective of culture? Or does it influence culture? Both, perhaps?
Carl Bloch has received acknowledgement in the last several years for his influence in the LDS faith. Prints of his paintings are still distributed by the church as visual teaching aids, and many works hang in our church buildings. He along with Bertel Thorvaldsen have largely shaped the aesthetic of our religion since the 1960’s.