Job and His Wife, c. 1504, Oil on Panel, Albrecht Durer, (1471-1528)

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Related post B Proper 22 Art for October 7, 2012

Job was a very righteous man with great herds of livestock and incalculable wealth. Satan suggested, however, that Job’s piety may not be as strong as it seemed if all his worldly possessions were destroyed. Would he not curse God if he were to lose everything? Job was put to the test. His oxen, donkeys, and camels numbering in the thousands were stolen and fire destroyed his 7,000 sheep. A mighty wind from the desert caused his house to collapse and his ten children were killed, but Job remained steadfast. He did not curse God. He shaved his head, tore off his clothes and said “Naked I came out of my mother’s womb and naked shall I return; Lord has given, and Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Next came physical suffering and ridicule from his wife. Friends came to console him but they thought the terrible occurrences were the result of sin. They urged him to confess. God intervened finally and returned Job to good health; his livestock was restored to even greater numbers and he had a new family.

This painting of Job’s suffering was commissioned by Frederick the Wise (Frederick III, Elector of Saxony); a Protestant and a strong supporter of Martin Luther. Memories of sweeping epidemics such as the Bubonic Plague were fearful to him as was a new threat, syphilis. He commissioned several artists to deal with the theme of suffering. Durer’s painting depicts the flames (upper left) that destroyed his servants and sheep, and in the foreground, Job is shown physically overcome and spiritually downcast. The weight of his head is being supported by his arm as he sits overwhelmed and without clothes. His wife (in a typical Nuremberg dress of the early sixteenth century) has no sympathy for him and pours a bucket of water on his neck. Her suggestion was that Job should curse God and die.

Scholars believe Albrecht Durer’s painting, Job and His Wife, was part of a larger panel; possibly a diptych or even a triptych. It also has been suggested this painting is the left side of a larger painting that was cut in half. It is agreed that another panel containing two musicians was part of the original. The fact that the background landscape of both paintings and a portion of Job’s wife’s dress line up with each other when placed side by side support the belief they were once together as one.

In the section that was separated from this scene, two musicians – a flute player and drummer – are standing nearby playing to Job. Music, it was believed, was soothing to sufferers of melancholia in particular and it was prescribed by healers. While studying in Venice, Durer was familiar with street minstrels in colorful clothes and he added them to this painting to provide comfort to Job.


The Book of Job was selected by renowned authors to be listed among the world’s hundred greatest books.

Frederick the Wise was a collector of relics. In his castle church he had over 17,000 purported relics; included in his collection were five pieces of the true cross, parts of the holy cradle, swaddling clothes, a piece of Moses’ burning bush, and even milk from the Virgin Mary.


© 2012 Hovak Najarian

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