The widow’s gift – 8 November 2021
The painting illustrates a well known scene from a Biblical story. On the right is the prophet (Elijah) carrying a staff. Hungry, and searching for something to eat, he is in conversation with a much younger woman. Between the two adult figures stands a boy, who holds out a bowl, his meal, to the prophet.
Note how well structured this picture is. The boy’s head is at the centre, as is his gesture of sharing and hospitality. The three heads form a close circle, as each figure looks intently into the eyes of another. Across the bottom half of the picture is a run of hands and gestures. The woman, a widow, rests her hands on a jug of oil and a bowl of meal, that contain the very last of her food. The prophet opens his hand in request. The painting captures the moment of generosity, of decision, where she shares what she has with the prophet. The generosity of the widow to this stranger prophet will be more than matched by the generosity of God, in that miraculously neither the meal or oil will run out.
The painting is by Bernardo Strozzi, who following the death of his father, supported his widowed mother and his sister through his painting. It is called ‘ The prophet Elias and the widow of Sarepta’, painted in the 1630s, most likely in Venice.
So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.
1 Kings 17:10-16
i was like a small bird
pecking near a gate
when i went in search of twigs—
a bit of wood for a fire
so after one last meal
my son and i could die…
then a man asked for water—
a bit of bread
now i, a small bird,
found more than twigs
because i too, like ravens, fed him
Lou Ella Hickman 2014