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Jacek Malcezewski: Christ and the Samaritan Woman

ArtWay Visual Meditation June 12, 2022

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Jacek Malcezewski: Christ and the Samaritan Woman

How are you going to get water for me?

by William Collen

Jacek Malcezewski was a Polish painter active in the decades surrounding the turn of the twentieth century. His canvases frequently depict scenes from stories and mythology and he painted a series of works on the theme of “Christ and the Samaritan Woman” between 1909 and 1912.

In this image the traditional depictions of Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well are turned on their head. Here we aren’t given an imposing, authoritative Jesus pontificating to the woman, such as he is commonly displayed when this theme is represented in art. Instead Malcezewski’s Jesus is shoved into a corner and the Samaritan woman dominates the canvas. I imagine this picture shows the moment (John 4:11) where she says, “Oh come on. You don’t even have a bucket. How are you going to get water for me?” Her smirk indicates that she thinks she’s scored a point on Him. Meanwhile Jesus pauses to respond. But isn’t that the exact dynamic of the first part of their conversation, as recounted in the book of John?

In fact, this picture shows precisely who Jesus seemed to be to the Samaritan woman – some random guy who just started talking to her, while she was busy getting water. The neighborhood wells were probably centers of chitchat, gossip, and flirty banter anyway and to the woman Jesus’ request for water probably wasn’t out of the ordinary for a trip to the well. The gospel narrative shows that this water run certainly didn’t end in a normal fashion for her! But that moment, just before her life was turned inside out by the teacher who told her “all the things she ever did”, is perfectly captured in this painting.

It is important to remember who Jesus would have appeared to be to his contemporaries. We get glimpses of His public persona in the gospels. The rich young ruler calls Jesus “good teacher” but Jesus’ neighbors from Nazareth dismiss Him as “the carpenter’s son.” Undoubtedly Jesus was a quasi-public figure, notable enough to attract the attention of the Pharisees who sought to kill Him. But when He visited Samaria, He was practically unknown. We, reading the gospel account of the Samaritan woman’s conversation with Jesus, get to experience the irony of knowing who He is before she does. Malcezewski’s painting helps us envision what the encounter would have been like to the Samaritan Woman herself.

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Jacek Malcezewski: Christ and the Samaritan Woman, 1912, oil on plywood, 92 x 72.5 cm. Borys Voznytskyi Lviv National Art Gallery, Ukraine, the largest art museum in Ukraine. It contains works by Ukrainian, Polish, Italian, French, German, Dutch and Flemish, Spanish, Austrian and other European artists. 

Jacek Malcezewski (1854-1929) was a Polish symbolist painter who is one of the most acclaimed painters of Poland, associated with the patriotic Young Poland (Młoda Polska) school of painting, following more than a century of partitions of Poland by Russia, Prussia and Austria and inspiring the revival the Romantic tradition. He is regarded as the father of Polish Symbolism. Themes in his creative output include historical motifs of Polish martyrdom, romantic ideals of independence, Christian and Greek mythology, national folk art, as well as his love of the beauty of his country’s landscape.

William Collen is an art writer and researcher from Omaha, Nebraska. His writings can be found at www.ruins.blog.

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ARTWAY BLOG – Interview by Jonathan Evens with Belinda Scarlett, theatre costume and set designer and ecclesiastical textile artist. Read here

ARTWAY BOOK REVIEW – Review by William Collen of W. David O. Taylor and Taylor Worley (ed.), Contemporary Art and The Church: A Conversation Between Two Worlds. Westmont, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2017. Read here

NEW BOOK – Jason Goroncy and Rod Pattenden (ed.), Imagination in an Age of Crisis. Soundings from the Arts and Theology. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2022. Foreword by Ben Quash. This book explores the vital role of the imagination in today's complex climates--cultural, environmental, political, racial, religious, spiritual, intellectual, etc. It asks: What contribution do the arts make in a world facing the impacts of globalism, climate change, pandemics, and losses of culture? What wisdom and insight, and orientation for birthing hope and action in the world, do the arts offer to religious faith and to theological reflection? These essays, poems, and short reflections--written by art practitioners and academics from a diversity of cultures and religious traditions--demonstrate the complex cross-cultural nature of this conversation, examining critical questions in dialogue with various art forms and practices, and offering a way of understanding how the human imagination is formed, sustained, employed, and expanded. Marked by beauty and wonder, as well as incisive critique, it is a unique collection that brings unexpected voices into a global conversation about imagining human futures. Read more

ARTS & CRAFTS CHURCHES – How the Arts & Crafts brought God down to earth
21 June 2022, 6pm, followed by drinks reception
Campion Hall Chapel, Oxford, England
Open to all
Delve into the intriguing world of Arts & Crafts churches, with Alec Hamilton, winner of the A+C Book Award. Alec will speak about the variety of examples throughout the UK and specifically in the Oxford area. He will also give attention to the work of Edwin Luytens (architect of Campion Hall Chapel) and the painter Frank Brangwyn, whose Stations of the Cross grace the Chapel's wall.
How the Arts & Crafts brought God down to earth Tickets, Tue 21 Jun 2022 at 18:00 | Eventbrite

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