Today I am returning to a biblical work of art and one which I saw at the National Gallery in London a fortnight ago, and like a number of paintings I have recently reviewed, it was hanging in Room 41. There are a number of biblical events which seem to be favourites with the artistic fraternity, such as the Crucifixion, the Deposition, Susanna and the Elders, Lot and his daughters, just to mention a few. Today’s depiction of these two biblical characters is no different, as one or both have been seen in paintings by Michelangelo, Chagall, William Blake, William Morris, Fabritius, Nicolas Poussin and Rembrandt just to mention a few. The biblical characters in question are Ruth and Boaz and the painting I am featuring today is entitled Ruth in Boaz’s Field by the German painter, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld.
Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld was born in Leipzig in 1794. His father, Johann Veit Schnorr was an engraver and painter and he gave his son his initial artistic training. When Julius was seventeen years of age he attended the Vienna Academy where he studied for four years under the German portrait and historical painter, Heinrich Füger. It was at this establishment that he made friends with fellow students, the German painter, Ferdinand Olivier and the Austrian painter Joseph Anton Koch. A couple of years prior to enrolling at the Vienna Academy, six of the students had formed an artistic cooperative in Vienna and called it the Brotherhood of St. Luke or Lukasbund, a name, which followed the tradition for medieval guilds of painters. In 1810 four of them, Johann Friedrich Overbeck, Franz Pforr, Ludwig Vogel and Johann Konrad Hottinger moved to Rome, where they occupied the abandoned monastery of San Isidro. Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld followed this group to Rome when he had completed his four-year course in 1815.
This grouping of German and Austrian Romantic painters was known as the Nazarenes and their formation was a reaction against Neoclassicism and the repetitive art education of the academy system. By setting up this group they hoped to return to art, which personified spiritual values, and this group sought stimulation from the works of artists of the late Middle Ages and the Early Renaissance periods. The goal of the Nazarenes was to add to their works of art a purity of form and spiritual values which they saw in Renaissance art. The group lived a semi-monastic existence, and they were given the name Nazarenes, by their detractors, as a term of derision, used against them for the quirky way they dressed, which imitated a biblical manner of clothing and hair style. They remained undeterred for the Nazarenes believed this was a way of re-creating the nature of the medieval artist’s workshop. Most of their works were centered around religious subjects.
Julius returned to Germany in 1825 and went to live in Munich where he was employed by King Ludwig I, who that year had succeeded his late father, King Maximillian I, and had become King of Bavaria. Julius and his staff then set about decorating the King’s palaces. Julius was a follower of Lutherism and his later artistic phase featured biblical works. His biblical works were often crowded scenes and were frequently criticised for their lack of harmony, unlike his featured painting today. His biblical drawings and the cartoons he made for frescoes formed a natural lead up to his designs for church windows. His designs would then be made up into stained glass windows at the royal factory in Munich. His fame as an artist soon spread and besides his commissions from German patrons he received many more from abroad, including ones for windows in both Glasgow and St Paul’s cathedrals.
Julius Schnorr died in Munich in 1872 aged 78.
Today’s oil on canvas painting entitled Ruth in Boaz’s Field Boaz is a biblical tale narrating the story of the first meeting between Ruth and Boaz and was painted by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld in 1828. This picture was painted in Munich and based on drawings he had made a few years earlier whilst in Italy.
The subject is taken from the Old Testament Book of Ruth. Here we see the Moabite woman, Ruth, meeting with Boaz and she is gleaning (gathering up corn left after the harvest) to support her widowed mother-in-law. The landowner Boaz who talks to her has come to show his admiration for her hard work in supporting herself and her mother-in-law, Naomi.
Ruth was a daughter-in-law of Naomi, a woman from Bethlehem, who had left the city in order to escape the famine. She, along with her husband Elimelech and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, travelled to the land of Moab which lay east of the Dead Sea. However Naomi’s husband dies. Later Naomi’s sons marry Moabite women but ten years later both of the sons die leaving Naomi with her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. Naomi feeling there was no reason to remain in Moab any longer decides to return alone to Bethlehem telling her daughter-in-laws to stay in Moab and return to their parent’s homes. Orpah goes back to her family but Ruth refuses to leave her mother-in-law, Naomi saying:
“…Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me…”
Naomi and Ruth then travel back to Bethlehem. It is harvest time and in order to support her mother-in-law and herself, Ruth goes to the fields to glean (to gather up corn left after the harvest). The story (Book of Ruth: 2) continues with the story:
“…And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favour. “Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.” So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz who was from the clan of Elimelech. Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”. “The Lord bless you!” they called back.
Boaz asked the foreman of his harvesters, “Who is that young woman” The foreman replied, “She is the Moabitess who came back from Moab with Naomi”. She asks Boaz, “Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.” She went into the field and has worked steadily from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.’
So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the girls.”
When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over. As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Even if she gathers among the sheaves, don’t embarrass her. Rather, pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.”
So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah. She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered, Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough.
Her mother- in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the person who took notice of you!” Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the person I worked with today is Boaz,” she said….”
The romantic story of Ruth and Boaz has a “happy ending” and for those of you who want to know what happened after that first meeting in the cornfield on the outskirts of Bethlehem you will have to read the Old Testament Book of Ruth (1-4).
Of all the biblical depictions of the couple I have seen in works of art I believe this to be the best. The colours and tones used by the artist are superb.