Nov 102009
 

Poussin’s Eliezer and Rebecca presents a curious departure from the solemn subject matter often preferred by the painter. This is an everyday scene where the majority of the actors perform everyday tasks; Eliezer himself, if we remember, was a servant. In this piece Poussin offers a generous and keen psychological portrait of girlhood, describing a blend of realistic emotions modern observers can easily identify with. Though the artist illuminates this encounter in a favorable light, he avoids sentimentality or aggrandizement.

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Eliezer and Rebecca
Nicolas Poussin
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Similarly to The Death of Germanicus, this is a linear (frieze) composition where the main event takes place slightly off center to the right. As a result, both Rebecca and Eliezer are difficult to recognize immediately. The viewers have to search for them, which prompts the examination of the faces of the other girls – how they react to the conversation between the protagonists. This process generates anticipation and encourages active emotional participation. Eventually, when we look at Rebecca, we already know how her friends perceive the occurrence, and can hypothesize what goes in Rebecca’s mind.

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Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well, circ…
Ottavio Vannini
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The composition progresses from left to right in line with the mountainous ascent. The two girls on the far left are not yet aware of the proceedings in the center; the following group, obviously in haste, reveals a few cursory signs of acknowledgment. To the right of the protagonists we witness three girls who openly watch the interlocutors, implicitly judging them by their postures and facial expressions. This visual progression creates a narrative structure that encompasses a range of emotional responses, arranging them from left to right, according to levels of intensity and involvement.

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Rebecca and Eliezer
Bartolome Murillo
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In order to tie this long horizontal composition together, Poussin cements it with a matrix of arms and amphorae. Arms, usually white or pinkish in tone, appear here and there, creating a chaotic scheme that evokes a sense of bustle, an almost auditory experience. Eliezer’s hand offers the gifts in an inconspicuous fashion, and blends with this general trend. The amphorae, however, appear in a more or less equal intervals, and impart a sense of rhythm that acts as a compositional glue of a different sort.

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Eliezer and Rebecca at the Well, 1562
Maarten de Vos
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Architectural motifs play a background role, though unlike in The Judgment of Solomon, they interact with objects in the foreground. For instance, Eliezer’s turban, the attribute of his masculinity, is repeated in the marble ball. While Eliezer communicates his interest to Rebecca – the topic of their discussion being masculine-feminine relations – the large marble ball overlooks the young ladies on the right, perhaps disclosing their line of thought.

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