It was not until the 1980s that Antonio de Bellis was recognized as one of the leading personalities of Seicento painting in Naples, largely thanks to the studies of Giuseppe de Vito ('Tracce di pittura napoletana del '600', in Ricerche sul '600 napoletano, Milan 1982, pp. 41-61, figs. 24-37; and 'Ritrovamenti e precisazioni a seguito della prima edizione della mostra del '600 napoletano', in Ricerche sul '600 napoletano, Milan 1984, pp. 11-13, figs. 25-47). Very little biographical material is still known about the artist and much of what the biographer De' Dominici tell us has since proven to be incorrect (De' Dominici informs us that De Bellis died prematurely in the plague of 1656, for example, but the discovery of paintings dated 1657-58 has disproved this). De' Dominici is almost certainly correct, however, in relating that De Bellis began as a pupil of Massimo Stanzione, as this seems to be borne out by the stylistic affinity between the two artists' works in the 1630s (see, for example, De Bellis' San Carlo Borromeo cycle in San Carlo alle Mortelle, datable to 1636-39). As well as Stanzione, De Bellis turned to Jusepe de Ribera and the 'Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds' for inspiration during this decade. After 1640, however, his style becomes much more closely associated with that of his contemporary Bernardo Cavallino, to whom many of De Bellis' works were once attributed, and this particular painting must surely date from this moment in De Bellis' career.
The figure of the Samaritan woman finds many parallels in other works by De Bellis dating from this period. One of the Jewish women in De Bellis' painting of David returning victorious with the head of Goliath, formerly in a private collection, Paris (oil on canvas, 105 by 129 cm.; De Vito, op. cit., 1984, fig. 47), could almost be the same model as that used for the Samaritan woman. Her lost profile and the pose of her body in contrapposto with a ribbon-clad foot coming forward are extremely similar, and De Bellis has chosen to silhouette his female figure with a cluster of trees, beyond which an atmospheric sky is visible. The angular folds and violet tones of the Samaritan woman's drapery are extremely close to those in De Bellis' painting of Saint Catherine of Alexandria (formerly Finarte, Rome, where it was interestingly ascribed to Cavallino; ibid, fig. 46). The tapering fingers and theatrical gestures of Christ and the Samaritan woman appear to be characteristic features of De Bellis' paintings at this date: they can also be found in his Drunkenness of Noah (private collection, Milan) and his Sacrifice of Noah (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas), both of which are painted on a similarly large scale (De Vito, op. cit., 1982, figs. 32 and 34 respectively). Both these, and The Finding of Moses (National Gallery, London), were once thought to be by Cavallino, until De Bellis' authorship was more recently recognized, and the qualities in the latter's works praised by De' Dominici might equally be applied to Cavallino: 'ad ogni modo si verde in essi l'ottimo componimento, con che sono ideati, il buon disegno, e l'intendimento di chiaroscuro, con belli accidenti di lumi' (B. De' Dominici, Vite de' Pittori Scultori ed Architetti Napoletani, Naples, 1742 (1979 ed.), III, p. 111).
This famous episode, taken from John 4: 1-30, shows Christ pausing to rest at Jacob's well, just outside the town of Sychar in Samaria, while on his way from Judaea to Galilee. He asks a woman from the town, an adulteress who has come to draw water from the well, for a drink and she shows alarm at his request (for the Samaritans were not looked upon by Jews with respect). She indicates the well from which she intends to draw water, and De Bellis has introduced an interesting conceit: he has depicted the scene of Moses striking water from the rock as a trompe l'oeil bas-relief on the side of the well. Moses strikes water from what appears to be a crevice in the rock but is, in fact, a crack in the well on which Christ sits: the visual parallel further underlines the link between the Old and New Testament. Given that De Bellis also adopted this 'dual narrative' in his painting of The Sacrifice of Noah in Houston, where another scene is shown in bas-relief on the sacrificial altar, it is likely that these two works date from around the same time.