Today's Gospel in Art - Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman

Christ and the Syro-Phoenician woman,  by Pieter Lastman 1625,© Lempertz, Old Masters, Sculpture & 19th Century Art Sale, Lot 2045

Christ and the Syro-Phoenician woman, by Pieter Lastman 1625,© Lempertz, Old Masters, Sculpture & 19th Century Art Sale, Lot 2045

Gospel of 13th February 2020 - Mark 7:24-30

Jesus left Gennesaret and set out for the territory of Tyre. There he went into a house and did not want anyone to know he was there, but he could not pass unrecognised. A woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him straightaway and came and fell at his feet. Now the woman was a pagan, by birth a Syrophoenician, and she begged him to cast the devil out of her daughter. And he said to her, 'The children should be fed first, because it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the house-dogs.' But she spoke up: 'Ah yes, sir,' she replied 'but the house-dogs under the table can eat the children's scraps.' And he said to her, 'For saying this, you may go home happy: the devil has gone out of your daughter.' So she went off to her home and found the child lying on the bed and the devil gone.

Reflection on the Painting

This woman of non-Jewish background can teach us something about praying. Persistence! In her spontaneous interaction with Jesus, she takes the attitude of continuing to ask Christ, even though at first she didn't get the response she wanted. The depth of the woman's faith, like a trusting child, is an example to us. She has not physically brought her daughter to Jesus, but in her eyes the prospect of long-distance healing presents no difficulties. Christ can do anything and everything from anywhere!

There are very few artworks that depict this Gospel passage of Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman. I wonder why artists over time haven't quite connected with this story or decided to depict it. This is a probably mainly due to art patronage. People commissioning artworks simply didn't ask the artists to create a painting around this Gospel passage. In the awakening of the Renaissance, the complete reliance on Gospel themes began to wane, as a sense of humanism began to arise. Like the rest of society at the time, also artists explored the desire to explain the natural world around them through observation. Art became thus more individualistic and interpretive rather than retaining the images and biblical themes of the past. Only the main biblical themes thus were still being painted, but the 'smaller' biblical stories if I can them that, didn't get depicted anymore by artists.

In our painting today by Dutch artist Pieter Lastman (his pupil was Rembrandt), the woman's faith, and absolute trust in the Lord is depicted by placing the two little dogs at the very centre of the painting. They are bouncing with joy. Yes, dogs were used by artists to symbolise loyalty, fidelity, and absolute dependence on their master. They remain by their masters' side in good days and bad days…


Christian Art Today -

Tags: Christian Art Today, Patrick van der Vorst, Pieter Lastman

We Need Your Support

ICN aims to provide speedy and accurate news coverage of all subjects of interest to Catholics and the wider Christian community. As our audience increases - so do our costs. We need your help to continue this work.

Please support our journalism by donating today.