Shepherds Purse: painting - Abraham and Hagar

Return to main page

click here or on picture for a larger version

This is a painting by Jan Mostaert ( Lugano-Castagnola, Schloss Rohoncz Collection, Thyssen Bequest) from the early to mid 16th century. While this work dates from a point fairly late in the era of the artifact under consideration, it is interesting in showing one possible origin of one form of the artifact: a simple cloth, wrapped around objects to be carried, and tied around the waist. Note that we see here the motif of carrying food for foot travel, although Hagar is not portrayed as a shepherdess. Hagar, wearing poor (but not ragged) clothing leaves a well-dressed Abraham. She carries a ceramic jug on one shoulder. Around her waist is a white cloth, knotted at her right hip in a granny knot with the short ends. In the cloth, showing over the top of the cloth, are two round flat loaves of bread. The resulting effect (if the cloth had been more completely wrapped around the bread) would be extremely similar to some of the depictions of shepherds purses (see e.g. Bibl. Nat. Paris MS 42) as well as providing a bridge to the depictions of reapers eating lunches spread on a cloth (previously a carrying cloth?).


Friedländer, Max. 1956. From Van Eyck to Bruegel. Phaidon Publishers Inc, New York. fig. 236