|Alexandre Cabanel: Rebecca and Eliezer 1883|
|Ary Scheffer Marguerite at the Fountain 1852|
|Léon Augustin Lhermitte At the Fountain|
The theme of today's Fine Art Tuesday are women at wells.
Collecting water was generally considered a "domestic" chore and it fell on the women to get water at the well.
It was an unpleasant task. Not only is water heavy, but the containers were too. Water spilling made clothing cold, clingy and heavy. Look at the women in the background of the first image staggering under the weight.
Consequently, as soon as a mother had a daughter old enough to physically handle the work, she sent the daughter to collect the water.
Suppose you were a gentleman who was new in town and wanted to assess the prospects for finding a bride; where would you go? Or, suppose you have a sweetheart whose family keeps a close eye on her; where would you be guaranteed to run into her first thing in the morning?
At the well or fountain where the community collects their water.
In literature, water is often used as a surrogate for "rebirth".
This meaning certainly pre-dates Christianity. In the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), Naaman is cured of leprosy by plunging into the Jordan at Elisha's direction. To have leprosy in those days was to be one of the walking-dead.
This theme is not exclusive to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Both Hindus and Buddists believe that swimming in the Ganges river results in the remission of sins.
But even before that, as hunter-gatherers, tribes would look across the desert and arid plains and see rain clouds. They would follow the rains because the rain brought the land to life. In the case of the Hindu and Buddists, those religions evolved in a land shaped by monsoons. A missed monsoon season resulted in famine and death.
In summary, young women and young men meeting at the village well has a deep-seated meaning that is not readily apparent to us in our culture.