We are grateful to Prof. Dr. Jan Piet Filedt Kok, formerly of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, for suggesting the possibility that these panels from a lost polyptych might be a product of the workshop of Jan van Scorel, noting that a closer study of the underdrawing may help determine the attribution. The style is comparable to that in another Christ and the Woman of Samaria of different composition, format and dimensions (30 x 36½ in.) in the Bob Jones University Museum and Gallery (Greenville; South Carolina), given to Jan van Scorel in full in the 1962 catalogue of the collection and more recently in T. Kennedy and J. Nolan, A Divine Light: Northern Renaissance Paintings from the Bob Jones University Museum and Gallery, Nashville, 2011, pp. 94-97, no. 13. A version of Christ and the Woman of Samaria at the Well of the same composition as in the present lot, and similar dimensions (69 x 28 cm.) was sold at Van Marle & Bignell, The Hague, 18-19 June 1941, lot 1281, as 'Joan Schoorl'.
That the composition of both panels may have been invented by Jan van Scorel or an artist in his close circle is further suggested by the sophisticated symbolic interrelationship between the two panels and the resultant theological meaning. Both Biblical episodes are drawn from the Gospel of John, Chapter 4. In the first, Christ meets the woman of Samaria at the well, and utters the famous phrase, 'Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life' (4:13-14). This event is meant to happen shortly before Christ's attendance of a marriage banquet at Cana, which is related earlier in the Gospel, Chapter 2, and is considered the first of Christ's public miracles: when the water at the wedding feast runs out, Christ transforms water into wine, which proves to be of better quality than the wine served previously. The first episode stresses the redemptive and lasting nature of Christ's teachings, while the second symbolises the promise of salvation to those who have faith (the 'better wine' to come), and each liquid assumes an allegorically Eucharistic character appropriate to an altarpiece which would have been displayed above an altar at the place of communion; assuming that these were the wings of a triptych, with a Madonna and Child or a scene of Christ's Passion in the central wing, the typological comparison would have been even more evident. The theme of water and wine might suggest that the polyptych was commissioned by a guild or an individual for whom the theme had special meaning, while the shared textual source for the depicted subjects may indicate a special invocation of Saint John the Evangelist as a patron saint. Jan van Scorel was a canon as well as a painter, with links to Pope Adrian VI and other important ecclesiastical figures; his pilgrimage to the Holy Land and then to Rome made him one of the first North Netherlandish artist to visit Italy, and the theological sophistication of the present work would be in keeping with his erudition. Taught by Cornelis Buys, Jacob van Oostsanen and Jan Gossaert, he was himself to become the master of Maarten van Heemskerck and Anthonis Mor.