A painting misunderstood …..

I was at a weekend retreat in Killenard, Co. Laois a few years ago.  In the dining room there hung a painting entiled something along the lines “Servant Girl At Emmaus” and it depicted a rather puzzled looking girl at a table.  There were some items on the table but there was nobody at it.  I assumed it was the table at which Jesus had sat with the two travelling companions and that they had left in a hurry – Jesus having “vanished” from their sight and the two men legging it back to Jerusalem to tell the others they had seen him.  I remember thinking did she wonder “who’s going to have to pay for this?”

I mentioned the painting to a priest friend sometime later – one who is more appreciative of the arts than I.  He knew the painting from my description and, though he shared my joke about the girl wondering would she have to pay for the meal since the diners had apparently done a runner, he let me know (gentlty, in fairness) that I had missed the point.  The girl is actually in the kitchen and Jesus and the two may still be seen at a corner table.  She is listening and wondering because she believes it is Jesus but realises his table companions haven’t recognised him.  Here’s the painting …. have a look at the girl and the men in the corner …

The Servant-Girl at Emmaus (A Painting by Valasquez)

Earlier this evening, I googled this painting and came across the following poem by Denise Levertov that sums it up so well … The Gospel passage ends with us being told that they recognised him in the “breaking of bread” – this girl, it seems, recognised him in the serving of bread.  Oh, to have eyes to see, ears to hear and Faith to believe …..

She listens, listens, holding
her breath. Surely that voice
is his – the one
who had looked at her, once, across the crowd,
as no one ever had looked?
Had seer her? Had spoken as if to her?
Surely those hands were his,
taking the platter of bread from hers just now?
Hands he’d laid on the dying and made them well?
Surely that face-?
The man they’d crucified for sedition and  blasphemy.
The man whose body disappeared from its  tomb.
The man it was rumored now some women had seen
this morning, alive?
Those who had brought this stranger home to their table
don’t recognize yet with whom they sit.
But she in the kitchen, absently touching the
winejug she’s to take in,
a young Black servant intently listening.
swings round and sees
the light around him
and is sure.

4 thoughts on “A painting misunderstood …..”

  1. Yes, I too have seen that painting , and wondered just what she was thinking,aren’t the colours helpful in creating a feeling of contemplation from girl and us alike?
    Thankyou for passing it on Ann..
    With love

  2. Vincent, Roisin here…Mount St. Anne’s!! I too love this picture and poem. I only used them last evening with a group. Well done!!

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