A DOG’S TALE: ‘Jesus and the Canaanite woman’ (1617) by Pieter Lastman

We are in the 17th century. The Renaissance period of art has reached the highs of glorious perfection. However the artists of the time are not so content with just perfection. They seek to complicate and intensify it. Thus emerges the Mannerist school of art. It emphasizes on imbalance, tension, dramatic motion, anatomical distortion and the beauty of spatial relations. Adhering to this style is today’s painting by the Dutch artist, Pieter Lastman (1583 – 1633).

The soul of an artwork banks on the established relation between the artist and the viewer. A clever painter creates the scene focusing on the climax moment of the conflict within the narrative. He then leaves it to the expertise of the viewer to re-construct the story. This is within the frame work of its past and the future without violating the heart of time. Pieter Lastman plays with this precept in today’s painting.

It is an image that proceeds from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 15. To the right, in the foreground stands the Evangelist himself. He peers intently at the viewer, clutching his sealed and exquisite reference book. His feet thrust forward, inviting us to accompany him on this Gospel tour.  

Right behind the Evangelist are hordes of people positioned against the architectural setting of the Temple of Jerusalem. To his immediate right is a stately figure with plumes on his hat. This places us in context. Jesus has just had a tiff with the Teachers of the Law over the Pharisaic tradition of purity. After a blatant and ‘offensive’ response, he ‘withdraws to the regions of Tyre and Sidon.’

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