The Biblical book of Ruth relates how young Ruth, great-grandmother of David, was married to a Hebrew immigrant in Moab. After his premature death, she left her native land and went with her mother-in-law, Naomi, to Bethlehem. There she was allowed to glean wheat in fields belonging to Boaz, a rich farmer and kinsman of Naomi. Maintaining a modest demeanour among the men working the harvest, Ruth, one night, went to lay at the feet of Boaz as he slept. By this act Boaz saw her virtue and in due course the two were married.
Of all the romanticized depictions of Old Testament heroines in the 19th century, Ruth gleaning was perhaps the most popular subject. In fact, the 19th century American author and Italian art collector, James Jackson Jarves, wrote of a prevalent "Ruth fever". Other fine examples of the subject include a similar version by Professore Rossi for the prolific Galleria Bazzanti in Florence and the celebrated version by Randolph Rogers shown at the Philadelphia International Exhibition in 1976.
Pasquale Romanelli was a pupil of Luigi Pampaloni and Lorenzo Bartolini in Florence. He subsequently became Bartolini's collaborator and continued his studio on the latter's death. Romanelli achieved notoriety in his own right, executing numerous public monuments in his native Italy and exhibited both in Paris and London. He was particularly renowned for his sensuous treatment of mythological, allegorical and biblical female figures. A figure of Ruth was exhibited by Romanelli at the Paris Salon in 1851.
Another example of the present model was sold Christie's London, 30 May 1996, lot 272.