Object of the Month: July 2021
Christ at the Pool of Bethesda
Oil on canvas
16th or 17th century
This beautiful 16th or 17th century work by an unknown Italian artist stands out due to its rectangular shape spanning approximately 9 ½ feet long. The artist used the entire length of the painting to masterfully demonstrate his knowledge of architecture and perspective. He also illustrates Palladian-style architecture which was inspired by Ancient Greek and Roman temples and focused on symmetry and proportion based on mathematical principles. The massive Corinthian columns, Roman-style sculptures in the niches along the arcade, and decorative motifs above each of the many doorways further exemplify the Palladian character of the structure. The painting also demonstrates the realistic use of lighting and perfect proportion of the figures (clad with a variety of rich, vibrant color) in comparison with the enormous temple-like structure. The actual site of the Pool of Bethesda, the subject of this painting, was discovered in the late 19th century confirming its description in the Gospel of John.
The artist captures one of only two miracles Jesus performed in Jerusalem. For those living in this part of the world, water was vital to all aspects of life. The Pool of Bethesda was no exception. The pool was divided into two reservoirs with one most likely functioning as a ritual bath (mikveh) and the other used to replenish it. Many sick, lame, and blind came to the pool because of the pool’s supposed healing powers, a long held pagan tradition. They believed that an angel would come and stir the waters and whoever stepped into the water first would be healed of his ailment (John 5:3-4).
Jesus knew there would be large crowds attending a religious festival in Jerusalem (John 5:1) and therefore, witnesses to what he was about to do. To the right of the painting, Jesus, wearing a dark blue cloak, and accompanied by a few of his disciples, approaches one of the many invalids. Jesus specifically chose a crippled man who had been ill for 38 years. Jesus asks him, “wilt thou be made whole?” (John 5:6) The invalid tells Jesus that he has no one to help him into the water and that he can never get to the water before someone steps in before him. Jesus does not lay hands on the man or touch him in any way but instead commands the invalid to get up, pick up his bed and walk. Miraculously, the man is completely healed by only words of Jesus.
The miracle of the lame man’s physical restoration revels Jesus’s identity as the Jewish people’s long-awaited Messiah. Instead, the Jewish leaders remained spiritually blind focusing only on the fact that Jesus healed a man on the sabbath which violated their oral traditions expanded from the Law of Moses. Jesus later finds the healed man in the temple and in addition to physical healing offers spiritual healing encouraging the man to “sin no more” (John 5:14). This miracle not only showcases Christ’s compassion for those enduring physical afflictions but also, and more importantly, reveals His desire to provide spiritual healing for all from the ravages of sin.
Rebekah Cobb, Registrar