of the barren & fruitful

This painting captures a poignant moment in the life of Rachel. A young Reuben has just returned from the fields to his mother, bearing in his hands a mandrake root, an ancient aphrodisiac. Desperate for its supposed fertility benefits, Rachel has begged her sister for the root and Leah has bartered it for the one thing she envies her sister for; the time and attention of their shared husband. While each sister has seemingly momentarily gained the prize she wants, there is still a lack of contentment on either of their faces and the waving field of grain still divides the space they occupy.

Rachel clings to her recently acquired mandrake root, the representation of both what she has—the affections of her husband—and what she will give anything for—children. Facing the opposite direction, Leah clings to what she has—a beautiful young child—but she gazes into the distance at what she also desperately craves, the affections of her husband. Each is completely absorbed in the pain of their individual experience and seemingly unaware of the beauty and bounty that surround them. The child gazes intently back at the viewer, both as an homage to the work of my hero, Carl Bloch, and as a silent invitation for the viewer to stop and consider the pain and longing that may exist in their seemingly beautiful and serene social circles.

“Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son’s mandrakes. And she said unto her, Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? and wouldst thou take away my son’s mandrakes also?”
                                                                       —Genesis 30:14-15