Style romanticism / Ref.12083
Two white marble statues representing "Rebecca" and "Ruth"
Width: 20'' ⅞ 53cm
Height: 58'' ⅝ 149cm
Depth: 20'' ½ 52cm
Early 20th century.
These two white marble statues, the first depicting a young woman with a jug, and the second a young woman standing holding sheaves of wheat, are the work of the French painter and sculptor Paul Berthier (1879-1916).
The round base of the statues rests on a rectangular pedestal with a slight carving at the top. The two young women are named, with their surnames inscribed on their bases, the young woman with the jug is called "Rebecca" and her companion, the young woman holding sheaves of wheat is called "Ruth".
The notice of the artist Paul Berthier given to us in Bénézit's Dictionnaire des peintres, sculpteurs, dessinateurs et graveurs informs us that he was a pupil of two sculptors, Antonin Mercié and Victor Peter. Berthier exhibited some of his works at the Salon in 1903 and 1904 and received an honourable mention in 1904. In his work, we find the stylistic influences of his two teachers, with allegorical subjects featuring animals, such as his bronze sculpture Le Sirocco, kept in the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille. To these two stylistic registers, Berthier added his personal touch by marking his works in the orientalist artistic movement, with characters inspired by the countries of the Maghreb and the Middle East and animals typical of these countries, such as the dromedary in his sculpture Le Sirocco.
The two allegorical statues of the young woman with a jug and the young woman holding sheaves of wheat are an example of the Orientalist influence on Berthier's work. The figure of Rebecca is depicted in the round, facing forward, while Ruth is depicted in three-quarter view. Rebecca's right leg is resting against a small stone well, stabilising her, on which she has placed her pitcher, which she holds in her right hand. She is dressed in a drapery with light embroidery on the collar and bottom, and wearing a turban. Ruth is resting her left leg against a low wall on which she has placed the sheaves of wheat she has just harvested. She is also dressed in a drapery with light embroidery incised into the collar, waist and bottom, and is wearing a turban.
Both women are part of the academic and orientalist artistic movement. Their postures and attributes echo each other. The hand raised towards the lowered face of the first is opposed to the raised head and straight gaze of the second. Each is depicted in contrapposto, the woman holding the jug resting on her right leg and the woman holding sheaves of wheat resting on her left leg and both half-hiding their attributes, the jug of water and wheat, behind her.
The names of the two young women, 'Rebecca' and 'Ruth', refer to two biblical characters from the Old Testament, Rebecca the wife of Isaac, and Ruth the wife of Boaz. The first appears in the Genesis account, she meets Abraham's servant, who has gone to look for a wife for Isaac, at a well. Coming from a modest family, Berthier depicts her as she is described in the Bible, dressed in simple clothes with some jewellery. The full pitcher in her hand symbolises her untouched virginity and her downcast face refers to her shyness.
Ruth, on the other hand, appears in the Bible in the Book of Ruth. Originally from the kingdom of Moab, Ruth married Noemiah's son but was soon widowed. With her mother-in-law, they moved to Bethlehem during the harvest season and gleaned ears of wheat from a field belonging to Boaz, a relative of her father-in-law. The artist depicted the figure of Ruth in her encounter with Boaz, holding in her left hand the ears of wheat she had just gathered and slightly hiding them with her right hand.
Berthier sculpted two women from the Bible as they met their future husbands, Abraham's servant speaking on behalf of Isaac. From these two unions came central figures in the Bible, Jacob, son of Rebecca and Isaac, and David, great-grandson of Ruth and Boaz.
The iconographic theme of Rebecca and Ruth was marked by the work of Pierre Antoine Hippolyte Bonnardel, who sculpted a Ruth gleaning in 1855, now in the Louvre Museum, while in Italy, Giovanni Maria Benzoni created a veiled Rebecca in 1866, now in the Salar Jung Museum in India.
Here we are faced with a classical iconography but marked by Paul Berthier's taste for Orientalism. The turbaned hair and the loose but marked waistline seem directly reminiscent of the female figures painted by Eugène Delacroix in the first half of the nineteenth century, such as the Portrait of a Woman in a Blue Turban or Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi.
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