Christ and the woman of Samaria

MichelangeloBetween 1536 and 1542

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
Liverpool, United Kingdom

St. John’s Gospel records Christ’s meeting with a Samarian woman who had come to draw water from the well of Jacob. Christ tells her that his own words are a source of life more lasting than earthly water.The poor condition of the picture makes it difficult to confirm the artist. The first drawing for the composition was certainly by Michelangelo (Buonarroti) (?6 March 1475 - 18 Feb 1564). But as a celebrated artist in his own lifetime Michelangelo’s compositions were sometimes reproduced by his pupils.


  • Title: Christ and the woman of Samaria
  • Creator: Ascribed to Michelangelo
  • Date Created: Between 1536 and 1542
  • tag / style: Renaissance; Biblical; terribilitià; Michelangelo Buonarroti; Christ; Woman of Samaria; biblical; Samarian; William Roscoe
  • Physical Dimensions: w699 x h777 cm (Without frame)
  • Artwork History: Previously owned by William Roscoe (1753-1831). Roscoe was a successful Liverpool lawyer and Radical politician who campaigned aginst the slave trade, and whose interests included history, poetry, botany, languages and art. Remarkably, he was, on the whole, a self-educated man. Roscoe thought Michelangelo had created this image for his close friend, the devout poetess Vittoria Colonna (1490-1547). If not the original, it is certainly a close copy of a now lost design which Michelangelo is known to have created for Colonna. Roscoe admired both the poet’s and the painter’s work. He also owned about 27 drawings attributed to Michelangelo. Roscoe’s admiration for Michelangelo was encouraged by his friendship with the radical Anglo-Swiss painter Henry Fuseli (1741-1825). Fuseli often stayed at Roscoe’s house in Liverpool. They both shared an appreciation of Michelangelo and held anti-slavery views. It was Fuseli who identified the subject of the painting. To find out more about Roscoe, please follow this link: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/online/collectors/williamroscoe.asp
  • Artist biographical information: Michelangelo Buonarotti (1475-1564), sculptor, painter, draughtsman, architect and poet, was one of the major figures of the High Renaissance. He was acclaimed in his own lifetime as a genius. His working career spanned over 70 years.
  • Additional artwork information: The choice of this biblical subject for a private devotional image, as this piece is believed to be, is unusual. The Woman of Samaria had already had five husbands and was living with another man who was not her husband. Jews did not normally talk to Samarians. It would seem that Samarians themselves did not normally talk to this woman. By singling her out for attention and making her the physical vehicle for carrying messages to the Samarians, Christ indicated most forcefully that he had come to save all humanity. This incident places particular emphasis upon grace and forgiveness. A characteristic of Michelangelo's figure style that was much commented on by his contemporaries was his so-called 'terribilitià' - a kind of awesome statuesque grandeur. Muscles are often exaggerated - bodies have a burly look and female figures have a proportion similar to those of males. The picture is drawn in bistre ink onto gesso (plaster) ground. The ground is on a poplar panel and has warped into a curve over time.
  • Type: Ink on gesso-coated poplar wood panel
  • Rights: Presented by the Liverpool Royal Institution in 1955

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