Ricky Lau’s “Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well and the Text” — ralbycs

Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well and the Text

Ricky Lau
FAH267 The Art of the Medieval Mediterranean
1 February 2012

Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well (circa 550) is a continuous narration; it illustrates four segments in Vienna Genesis 24:10–22 as four scenes integrated as one illustration. The textual story can be followed beginning from the top right scene, proceeding in a counterclockwise order. The first scene depicts the city of Nachor as several shingled buildings encased by a hexagonal stone wall. Right to Nachor is a colonnaded path that leads to the second scene. In the second scene, Rebecca stands facing away from the town while shouldering a tilted pitcher. Incidentally, the tilted pitcher implies its emptiness, and that Rebecca is exiting Nachor to retrieve water. Continuing down the path is the third scene, which lays a nude female figure. As the text does not mention nudity during the collection of water, and that it deviates from conventional practice to strip during the collection of water, it can be concluded that the nude is not Rebecca or other daughters of Nachor. Rather, the nude is a naiad, or water nymph. This is reasonable in that the naiad is a personification of springs. The ground of which the naiad rests meets a spring that flows to the right into the final scene. In the final scene, Rebecca stands at the end of the spring and on a trough, where she holds out a tilted pitcher with extended arms towards Eliezar, who is in a bent position in attempt to drink from the opening of the pitcher. Behind Eliezar are ten camels standing on a ground of grass, with one drinking from the trough.

The majority of the illustration corresponds to the text. Incidentally, the figures’ small faces do not exhibit emotions. However, in the final scene, Rebecca’s body language of fully extended arms, in combination with her forward-tilted head, appears as though she is peering over the tilted pitcher in order to assure that Eliezar is able to drink from it. The illustrated Rebecca demonstrates wholehearted willingness to aid Eliezar thus offers an impression of kindness and therefore corresponds to her textual counterpart. The illustrated Rebecca also correlates with her textual description as “comely” and “beautiful” (Gen. 24:16). The characters are clearly differentiated. Rebecca wears a white wimple with pink dress, Eliezar wears an orange tunic with a blue cloth around the upper body, while the naked naiad covers her lower body with a navy cloth. The setting of the story is the city of Nachor. However, the illustration does not depict a unifying setting in that the illustration takes on the format of a continuous narration. The four scenes of the illustrations respectively depict the walled buildings, colonnaded path, spring, and grass ground of Nachor.

There are some deviations between the text and illustration. Firstly, while the text states that Rebecca merely “let[s] down the pitcher upon her arm,” the illustration depicts her holding the tilted pitcher with extended arms (24:18). This act of giving water is emphasized possibly to emphasize Rebecca’s willingness to aid, which in turn demonstrates her kindness. Secondly, as opposed to depicting Rebecca physically drawing water from the spring, the illustration depicts a naiad. This is controversial in that the naiad is a personification of several water-related entities, including water wells; yet the text states that Eliezar “made the camels lie down without the town near a well of water” (24:11).

The significance of the characters differs between the text and illustration. While Eliezar is emphasized in 24:10–22, Rebecca is relatively significant in the illustration. In the total of four scenes, Eliezar appears only in one (final) scene, while Rebecca appears in two (second and final) scenes. Moreover, the remaining (first and third) scenes of the walled city of Nachor and the naiad are relatable to Rebecca. For instance, Nachor is Rebecca’s hometown and is also the place of which she departs from in a following scene. Also, the naiad represents Rebecca’s duty to retrieve water and her visit to the spring.

Overall, Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well is faithful to the original text of Vienna Genesis. However, the illustration’s artistic attributes are ungoverned by the text, thus the illustration retains the capacity for artistic creativity. For instance, firstly, the illustration takes on the optional format of continuous narration. Secondly, the illustration implements the optional personification of the naiad. Thirdly, details of elements such as the figures’ clothing style and the trough are unspecified in the text thus are open to the artist’s creativity. The illustration solidifies the aspects that are unspecified by the text. Incidentally, the illustration, in the format of continuous narration, serves as a visual summary that helps to clarify the textual story. Also, the illustration contributes to the Vienna Genesis’s status as a highly valued illuminated manuscript.

Genesis 24:10—22

[10] And he took ten camels of his master' s herd, and departed, carrying something of all his goods with him, and he set forward and went on to Mesopotamia to the city of Nachor.

[7] He will send his angel before thee: This shews that the Hebrews believed that God gave them guardian angels for their protection.

[11] And when he had made the camels lie down without the town near a well of water in the evening, at the time when women are wont to come out to draw water, he said: [12] O Lord the God of my master Abraham, meet me today, I beseech thee, and shew kindness to my master Abraham. [13] Behold I stand nigh the spring of water, and the daughters of the inhabitants of this city will come out to draw water. [14] Now, therefore, the maid to whom I shall say: Let down thy pitcher that I may drink: and she shall answer, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: let it be the same whom thou hast provided for thy servant Isaac: and by this I shall understand, that thou hast shewn kindness to my master. [15] He had not yet ended these words within himself, and behold Rebecca came out, the daughter of Bathuel, son of Melcha, wife to Nachor the brother of Abraham, having a pitcher on her shoulder:

[16] An exceeding comely maid, and a most beautiful virgin, and not known to man: and she went down to the spring, and filled her pitcher and was coming back. [17] And the servant ran to meet her, and said: Give me a little water to drink of thy pitcher. [18] And she answered: Drink, my lord. And quickly she let down the pitcher upon her arm, and gave him drink. [19] And when he had drunk, she said: I will draw water for thy camels also, till they all drink. [20] And pouring out the pitcher into the troughs, she ran back to the well to draw water: and having drawn she gave to all the camels.

[21] But he musing beheld her with silence, desirous to know whether the Lord had made his journey prosperous or not. [22] And after that the camels had drunk, the man took out golden earrings, weighing two sicles: and as many bracelets of ten sicles weight.


“Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible, Book of Genesis Chapter 24.” DRBO.org. 2001. Web. 1 Feb. 2012.