Pieter Lastman was one of the most important Dutch history painters of his generation. Under the impact of his several years spent in Italy and his encounter with Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610) and Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) in Rome, he developed a pictorial language that decisively influenced Dutch seventeenth-century painting, not least Rembrandt, his most famous pupil.
The present painting illustrates the parable of the Good Samaritan, related in the Gospel of Luke, which Jesus told to a scholar in order to illustrate an example of charity. The parable is about a traveller who was attacked, robbed and left behind, heavily injured.
A priest and a Levite passed the man without showing mercy. Yet the Samaritan attended to the injured traveller and brought him to an inn (Luke 10.30-35). The picture is dominated by the injured man’s brightly lit naked body, to which the Samaritan bends down. On the left side, his horse is seen standing in the shadow, while a landscape opens up to the right, with two figures recognizable in the far distance (the priest) and further to the front (the Levite).
This painting, which was unknown until recently, represents an important addition to Lastman’s oeuvre. It is probably identical with a painting of this subject matter that was in Lastman’s house in Amsterdam in 1632, one year before his death. As no other painting of this theme by Lastman is known, this newly rediscovered picture can very likely be identified as this work. The Good Samaritan is painted on canvas, a support Lastman only used for large compositions.1 The large size of the figures and their placement close to the lower margin are unusual.
The characteristic treatment of the figures and their garments in the Oriental style, as well as the landscape and the cabbage-like repoussoir on the right, recur in numerous works by Lastman (fig. 1). Moreover, the same horse, its harness only slightly modified, can be found in Lastman’s The Return of Jephthah from Battle (fig. 2). In terms of composition, the present work is closely related to other compositions in which Lastman depicted scenes with only two or three figures.2
It seems plausible to date The Good Samaritan to c.1612-1615. The subject rarely occurs in Dutch painting, but has a tradition in sixteenth-century Bible illustrations and printmaking. Lastman’s younger brother Claes (1586-1625) made a copper engraving based on the parable that dates from c.1610-1615.3 For this composition, Pieter Lastman referred to a copper engraving edited by Philips Galle in Antwerp in 1612 after an invention by Johannes Stradanus (Jan van der Straet). The group of figures – compare how they relate to each other through the pose of the Samaritan and the position of the victim’s legs – and the horse, which is turned slightly to the right (if slightly shifted to the left) clearly suggests that Lastman had been familiar with the print.4 Furthermore, Lastman also seems to have relied on a copper engraving by Cornelis Cort of Titian’s Tityus.5 The dramatic position of the injured man, his muscular body, and his bent left arm with its clenched fist (in Titian’s engraving it is the right arm) might have been inspired by Titian. The reference to prints and to compositions by Titian can frequently be observed in Lastman’s work.