European Art: 19th Century

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Rebecca at the Well, 1838-1839

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot

French, 1796-1875
Oil on canvas
19-3/4 x 29-1/4 in. (50.2 x 74.3 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
F.1972.21.P
© The Norton Simon Foundation

On view

During the 1830s, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot executed a large number of religious and mythological scenes. Rebecca at the Well is the first of these pictures in which the figure is prioritized over the landscape, the genre for which Corot was best known. Rebecca's delicately painted facial features, leafy garland, gold earring, and even toenails, along with the carefully finished ceramic pot, reflect a shift in attention from background landscape to foreground narrative. Some scholars have suggested that this is the moment in the biblical story just before Abraham's servant Eliezer, who has been sent to find a bride for Abraham's son Isaac, approaches Rebecca. Absent are her ring and gold bracelets, which, according to the narrative, Eliezer gave to her. Others contend that this is the moment after their encounter, as gold earrings were often used in lieu of gold bracelets in contemporary accounts of the biblical story. In either case, Rebecca's inquisitive expression indicates that Corot was meditating on a moment of change in her life.

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