Willem Muys (1720-1763). Rebecca and Eliezer at the well. Oil on canvas
Rotterdam-born painter Willem Muys (1720-1763) specialised in wallpaper paintings. Little is known about his work, as not many paintings can be attributed to him. His children Cornelia, Robbert and Nicolaes were trained by him and have all made a career as artists. In the story of Rebecca (Gen. 24: 46-67) the servant Eliezer is sent by Abraham to Mesopotamia where he has to find a wife for his son Isaac. In a prayer, Eliezer asks how he would be able to recognise the most suitable bride. It is revealed to him that the woman who offers water, not only to him but also to his camels will be the chosen bride. Rebecca appears at the well and offers him water to quench their thirst. She does not forget the camels. On seeing this Eliezer gives her jewels and obtains the permission of her brother and mother to accompany him to Canaan to be married to Isaac.
[Detail 1: Rebecca en Eliezer]
Muys creates a juxtaposition of sequential story elements. Everything seems to happen simultaneously. Eliezer kneels at her side after having recognised her and gives her a bracelet. In the story, Eliezer is kneeling for God, not for Rebecca. Near Rebecca, a woman, probably her mother Betuel, is standing. This is an invention of the painter.
[Detail 2: camels]
Camels often appear in biblical or oriental scenes to help the viewer understand that the locale is exotic. They function as visual clues. In this case, however, the camels are an essential ingredient of the story itself. In the story, Rebecca fills the water-basin and returns to the well to draw fresh water. The painter had to make some adjustments to the story. Rebecca is already in the process of being given jewellery. The solution is to let someone else fill the water-basin.
[Detail 3: jewels]
The book of Genesis recounts how Eliezer gives a nose ring and bracelets as gifts to Rebecca as soon as he recognises her as Isaac’s future bride. Rebecca gets permission from her brother Laban and her mother Betuel to travel to the land of Canaan and Eliezer gives jewels to all of them. It is obvious that his master Abraham is a rich man. In the painting, the jewels are produced from a chest by a sitting person. The painter is forced to introduce this extra person, not mentioned in the story, because Eliezer already has a role in the scene.