Art in focus: October 2020
The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix)
Vincent van Gogh, oil on canvas
When he painted this picture, van Gogh was himself in need of care. He was living in Saint-Paul psychiatric asylum, in the south of France, where he had arrived exhausted, ill and out of control. Not long afterwards, he made this image of rescue and care. The true neighbour.
Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan is well known. It is easy to picture the vivid scene as the injured traveller is found and helped by a man from a group of people that the traveller might, in other circumstances, have despised. So, what does a great artist like van Gogh bring to our understanding of the parable?
All the elements of the story are here. The road is rough, and winds through a threatening gorge. The open case on the ground signals that the traveller has been robbed. Far off down the track are the priest and the temple official. They have clearly walked past the victim on the narrow path. And, most importantly, front and centre is the Samaritan himself. The injured man is desperately clinging to him. The Samaritan is straining backwards with his head turned. It is clearly very difficult for the Samaritan to hoist the traveller onto his horse, but he is taking the utmost care.
‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ asks Jesus (Luke 10:36). The expert in the law replies: ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him: ‘Go and do likewise.’ (Luke 10:37)
Art in focus is curated by Meryl Doney
This article was published in the October 2020 edition of Reform