Rebecca al pozzo (c.1582-1588)

Veronese, Paolo (1528-1588)

Rebecca al pozzo (Rebecca at the Well)
Oil on canvas, 145.5 x 282.7 cm
National Gallery of ArtWashington

Three men, one woman, and three camels gather around the stone ledge of a well in this horizontal landscape painting. Along the left edge of the composition and on the far side of the well, a man with brown skin and short, black hair faces away from us as he reaches for the reins of two camels, one of which looks at or toward us. This man wears an emerald-green shirt under a canary-yellow tunic, which is tied in place with a strap over one shoulder. With her back to that man, a woman with pale, white skin stands angled toward the two light-skinned men who stand to our right, in the center of the painting. Light falls across this trio, and the woman’s face is especially bright against the muted blues of the sky behind her. Her blond hair is braided and coiled at the back of her head. Her white shirt has puffy, short sleeves, and is covered with sheer, gold fabric, like a vest. Salmon-pink fabric wraps across her shoulders and under her bust, and the light glints off the folds of her full, pink skirt. She touches her left wrist, to our right, with her other hand, and wears bracelets on both arms. A copper-colored pot sits on the ledge next to her, to our left. She looks toward a man who kneels as he holds up a handful of gold coins or jewelry. His body is angled away from us, and we see him in profile facing our left, the bottom of his face hidden by his raised arm. He wears a tunic striped with fawn brown and white, and short, teal-green pants come to mid-thigh. His knees are bare, and he wears peach-colored, shin-high boots. A buttercup-yellow robe is tied over one shoulder and around his waist, and he wears a close-fitting green cap, the same color as his pants. Just beyond him, a balding man with a trimmed, gray beard leans toward and looks at the woman. He wears an apricot-orange tunic under an ocean-blue cape. He gestures with one hand to the gold and props his other hand on a tall walking stick. A camel behind him faces our right in profile with coral-pink fabric draped over its hump. The camel’s head is near a tree with a bush growing at its base. A chest with a rounded top sits near the tree. Another camel peeks its face into the scene from the upper right corner, and a fifth drinks from another copper-colored vessel in the lower right. Gray rocks are scattered on the earth along the bottom edge of the painting, and a stick leans against the side of the well close to us. Beyond the tree and the camels to our right, a town with oyster-white buildings lines the horizon in the distance. The sky above is streaked with navy blue, steel gray, tan, and mauve pink. The weave of the canvas is visible in some areas, especially the sky.

Rebecca went to the well outside her city and encountered a stranger who identified her as the answer to his prayers. The backstory, according to Genesis 24:11–22, is that the aged Abraham wanted a wife for his son Isaac and sent his senior steward to his homeland of Mesopotamia to find a suitable woman. Tired after his long journey, the steward stopped at a well and prayed for guidance. When Rebecca came to get water, she offered it to the old man and his camels, and he recognized her as the appointed bride and presented her with the betrothal jewels of a gold earring and two bracelets. In Veronese’s depiction, the jewels are offered by a kneeling servant, while Abraham’s steward stands behind him.

This painting is one of a series of ten biblical scenes by Veronese or his workshop, five of which show scenes from the Old Testament and five from the New. Based on their style, they date from the 1580s, the last decade of the painter’s life. The ten canvases are nearly identical in size and shape and were clearly commissioned as a cycle for a particular building, but the identity of the patron remains a mystery. (NGA)


Veronese, Paolo (1528-1588)
Cristo e la Samaritana
Kunsthistorisches MuseumVienna