The Pool of Bethesda is based on Saint John's account of The Healing of the Paralytic (John 5: 1-15), which placed this miracle in Jerusalem, in 'a place with five colonnades', at the pool of Bethesda, whose waters were believed to have curative powers. The archangel Raphael would occasionally appear and ripple the waters, in this way curing the first of the invalids to enter the pool afterwards. Because he could barely move, the paralytic never managed to be first. The present scene shows Christ accompanied by some of his disciples ordering the paralytic to lift up his bedding and walk, whereupon the paralytic found himself miraculously cured.
The theme of The Pool of Bethesda was successfully explored by some of the greatest Baroque artists, allowing as it did for the dramatic interplay between the chief protagonists and a chorus of disciples and other witnesses, all set within an impressive architectural backdrop. Justus Müller Hofstede proposed that the young Rubens could have been the inventor of this particular composition, perhaps made shortly before 1600, during the artist's first Antwerp period (private correspondence between Müller Hofstede and the present owner, 31 December 1965). Michael Jaffé published a version of this painting as by Pieter van Mol (see M. Jaffé, 'Exhibitions for the Rubens Year - II', The Burlington Magazine, CXX, March 1978, p. 139, fig. 11); other recorded versions have been variously given to Otto van Veen, Werner van den Valkert, Claes Moeyaert and Jacob Jordaens (for a comprehensive listing of the versions, see H. Vlieghe, 'Zwischen van Veen und Rubens: Artus Wolffort (1581-1641), ein vergessener Antwerpen Maler', Wallraf-Richartz-Jb., XXXIX, 1977, pp. 107-8, pl. 26-8, and footnotes 22-3). Another larger version measuring 170.5 x 226.8 cm. by Artus Wolffort was bequeathed to the Gallery of Ontario in 1983. We are grateful to Professor Hans Vlieghe for confirming, on the basis of photographs, that the present picture is an autograph painting by Artus Wolffort, noting that 'it is a version of outstanding quality'.
Artus Wolffort first worked as an assistant to Otto van Veen, in whose house he lived, around 1615. Most of his documented oeuvre consists of life-size figures taken mainly from the life of Christ and other religious subjects, as well as mythologies. His work was almost totally unknown until the 1970s when a reconstruction of his oeuvre took place on the basis of the fully signed Women Bathing (location unknown; replica, London, V & A) and several monogrammed pictures. Pieter van Lint and Pieter van Mol worked as his assistants making replicas of varying quality. The full Baroque slant and Rubensian feel of this painting would suggest that it was a fully mature work, made after 1630.