Oil on canvas. 17th century French school attributed to Michel II Corneille.
Michel Corneille the Younger depicts Christ and the Samaritan meeting in an Italian landscape, Roman according to the ancient relics. In truth, the parable found only in the Gospel of St. John locates the scene in Samaria, close to Jacob’s well. A symbol of abundance and source of life, the well is considered sacred among the Hebrews for whom the fast-flowing water results from little more than a miracle.
The episode that is depicted in many paintings evokes Christ’s unlikely meeting with a Samaritan woman from whom he should have turned away. Indeed, these people, because of their foreign origins and unique practice of Yahwism, were despised by the Jews. On the way to Galileo, Jesus therefore crossed Samaria and, while his disciples went in search of supplies, he paused near the well. There was a woman there and he asked her for a drink. Very surprised that a Jew deigned to speak to her, she objected: ‘What? You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ ‘If you knew who it is that asks you for a drink, replied Jesus, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water… he whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst again’.
Our painting accurately captures this exchange in a peaceful light. Christ speaks to this woman with such simplicity that she seems to be contemplating with her eyes closed. Near this place of life, the Samaritan woman becomes the joyful messenger. The water is in a manner of speaking a nectar of life and teaching. The child, staring at Christ, passively listening, could imply that the water is also baptismal. In the background, the disciples returning from the city with supplies, are surprised to see Christ speaking to a Samaritan woman.
In contrast to other representations, like those by Philippe de Champaigne, Pierre Mignard and Carlo Maratta, Christ does not invoke heaven pointing his finger skyward. On the contrary, through his gestures, the index finger resting on the right hand, his art is one of gentle persuasion, an intimate two-way dialogue, far from any grandiloquence. Here, the sensitive fixity of the characters makes the scene very peaceful. A tree looms behind Christ, yet the landscape in the background illustrates ancient Rome with the Baths of Caracalla, the baths, aqueduct and Pyramid of Cestius. 17th century religious subjects are often imbued with an ancient atmosphere that originates from this Roman site.
The moment captured in the painting displays an unexpected encounter which has educational value just like a parable. The work certainly, thanks to the subtle rendering of the colours and their fine blending reminiscent of Poussin’s choices and contrasts, also through the attention to detail, reveals great artistic knowledge, inherited from the most renowned painters in the Grand Siècle and in particular from Pierre Mignard who taught Michel Corneille.
The journey to Italy, in the 17th century is undoubtedly associated with learning but it also reveals the fascination of French painters with Roman civilisation and this land that saw the birth of the Renaissance. Corneille stayed there between 1659 and 1663. The influences of who is regarded to be the father of classicism Annibale Carracci (Corneille studied for a while at the Accademia degli Incamminati) are no less apparent in our painting where the landscape is no longer a mere setting, but has a dimension where nature and culture are closely intertwined.
A balanced composition, subtle colours and great attention to detail interpret the great expertise with which Corneille manages to lay down the solemn nature of the occasion. Also, he provides a very personal vision of the meeting, among other things with the presence of the child.
Enchantment is visible in our painting that is a true masterpiece of classicism kept in Count Rémy de Polignac’s collection.
We have chosen to present it to you in a carved gilt Louis XIII style wood and pulp frame custom-made by the Mariotti workshops.
Dimensions: 78 x 104 cm – 97 x 122 cm with frame
Sold with invoice and certificate
Michel Corneille the Younger (Michel II or Michel-Ange or Corneille des Gobelins) (Paris 1642 – ID. 1708) is the son and pupil of Michel Corneille the Elder (1601/02 – 1664). He was also taught by Charles le Brun and Pierre Mignard. From his youth he, ‘showed signs of talent, and won the painting prize’. Barely 17 years old, he went to study at the Academy in Rome that he subsequently left due to ‘his passion for independence’. However, he stayed in Italy until 1663.
Idolising the Carracci, he studied in their famous Accademia degli Incamminati. ‘He was more talented than most of his contemporaries; the king and dauphin liked his works. Connoisseurs sought his paintings; they recognised, among the painters who emulated the style of the Carracci, that few had so well grasped their taste for large and precise art, their accurate expressions, their broad brushwork and robust colours…’ Major works painted by Corneille the Younger adorned ‘royal households and churches in Paris, Lyon, Versailles and Fontainebleau. Most of them were lost during the revolution.’
Cf. Biographie universelle, ancienne et moderne by Louis-Gabriel Michaud