Three hundred or so years after Pieter Bruegel the Elder painted Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Vincent van Gogh painted The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix). Van Gogh was a Dutch post-Impressionist painter not known for his biblical themes. It caught my eye awhile back not only because it’s a beautiful painting, but I’d never seen a Van Gogh that wasn’t a flower, a cypress or a self-portrait.
As it happens, though, van Gogh also painted The Raising of Lazarus, based on an etching by Rembrandt van Rijn. Van Gogh painted both in 1890, when he was in a mental hospital in Saint-Rémy for severe depression and anxiety. I’m not going to speculate as to why he painted his two biblicals at the hospital; perhaps he needed a good Samaritan to help him through troubled times. He died later that year from a supposed self-inflicted gun-shot wound.
Van Gogh’s Good Samaritan (1890), is a mirror image of Eugène Delacroix’s Good Samaritan (1849), who may have been inspired by 17th-century Italian baroque artist Domenico Fetti’s version.
Rembrandt’s version of The Good Samaritan (1630) shows him making arrangements for the traveler at the inn. In fact, I should consider Good Samaritan to be another arts history bonanza. It exists in sculpture and poetry; and was one of the most popular parables in Medieval art.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25 – 37
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.
31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.
35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
NOTE: The first paragraph of this post was an exaggeration; I have seen a van Gogh that wasn’t a flower, cypress or self-portrait.