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Ruth and Naomi

Philip Hermogenes Calderon, 1886 first exhibited

WAG 114

About this object

This painting portrays a scene from one of the only stories in the Old Testament to focus on the strong love bond between two women, the Book of Ruth. Calderon shows Naomi returning to her native land from Moab. She is trying to dissuade her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, both Moabite women, from accompanying her. Orpah, the figure on the right, stays behind in Moab but Ruth, the central figure, insists on going with Naomi. She is shown passionately embracing her mother-in-law and asserting her continued commitment to her. This is the moment described in the book where Ruth declares: ‘where you go I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge; your people will be my people and your God my God’ (Ruth 1: 16). Some scholars and historians have recently noted the closeness of this speech to contemporary wedding vows.

The story of Ruth and Naomi has traditionally been treated as a story of devoted but platonic friendship between two women. More recently it has been suggested that the love between the two women might have been better described as a romance, or even sexual in nature. Trevor Dennis, Vice Dean of Chester Cathedral, for example, described the relationship between Ruth and Naomi as ‘the great love story of the bible’.* The story has become particularly important for members of the Jewish lesbian community seeking historical role models of female romantic love. This painting could be interpreted as reflecting these views. The embrace between the two women, certainly suggests an eroticism or passion that exceeds the normal bounds of friendship.
This painting was purchased by the Walker Art Gallery from the artist, when it was exhibited in the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition in 1886

Trevor Dennis, ‘Face to Faith’: Lesbians and gays are the Bible's greatest lovers, ‘The Guardian’, Saturday 14 October 2006. See: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/oct/14/religion.gayrights (accessed 17.02.2017)

Object specifics

  • Artist(s)
    Philip Hermogenes Calderon (British: English, born:1833-05-03, died:1898-04-30)
  • Date
    1886 first exhibited
  • Materials
    Canvas; Oil paint
  • Measurements
    166.2 x 207.6 x 12 cm; framed: 205 x 245.6 cm
  • Physical description
    In the foreground of a sunny Eastern landscape, two women stand locked in an affectionate embrace. To the right another young women stands looking on.
  • Related people
    Philip Hermogenes Calderon (Artist/maker, previous owner)
  • Other number(s)
    WAG Inventory Number: 114
  • Credit line
    Purchased by the Walker Art Gallery in 1886
  • Location
    Walker Art Gallery, Room 08
  • Collection
    From the Walker Art Gallery collections


Previous owners

  • Philip Hermogenes Calderon

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: 1886
    Disposal method: Sold to the Walker Art Gallery from the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition
Object view = Fine Art
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