Washing hands – 9 March 2020








Here a refined lady of the Dutch Golden Age washes her hands. The picture depicts the moment when running water is poured over hands being rubbed together. She is a lady of wealth, as is indicated by her dress. Expensive furniture, including a wonderful carpet laying across her table, are indications of her good taste. The careful attention being given to the hand washing, by both the lady and her maid, indicate that this is a picture concerned with virtue (as in ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’). To help us understand this, the picture also depicts the lady’s dog, that looks out of the painting at the viewer. Late medieval Dutch paintings of women of religious virtue often contained little dogs. This picture connects cleanliness to well –being of all kinds.

The painting ‘Lady washing her hands’ (1662) is by Gerrit ter Borch. It is a much copied picture, adapted by other artists to show scenes of less virtue, where care is not taken with hand washing because the lady (or her maid) is distracted by activities or people that would lead her into vice. In attention to washing has long been associated with sin.


On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.

Zechariah 13:1

Yes, a broken spirit and a contrite heart
Thou wilt never despise, O my God!
But wilt fully cleanse it now in every part,
Till I’m whiter than snow by the blood.

I have overcome now by the blood of the Lamb,
And I’m clothed in my raiment so white;
And I’m on my journey to that glorious land,
Where forever I’ll dwell in the light.

Joseph C Fisher, 1883

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus

Robert Lowry (1826-99)