Jacopo Tintoretto, The Cure at Bethesda ("The Probatic Pool")

Circa 1579-81
Oil on canvas
Scuola Grande di San Rocco

The episode is recounted in John 5:2-9. Around the waters of the pool Jesus finds "a great multitude of sick, of blind, of lame, of withered," as pictured in the painting. Whenever an angel stirs the water, the first one into the pool is cured of his ailment. But one man, a paralytic, has never been able to get to the pool on time. So Jesus cures him with the simple directive, "Arise, take up they bed and walk."

Most remarkably, the person Jesus cures here is not a lame man but a woman with a bubo on her thigh, the hallmark of bubonic plague. The plague of 1575-77 had just finished ravaging Venice when this work was painted, and the woman strongly resembles contemporary personifications of the city; her garment has a similar high waist and scooped neck, and her hair is arranged tight and close to the head. The white line at the back of her head may refer to the crown Venetia wears in other paintings. She is stepping forward with her right foot, but beside her is a fallen body, also female, that could well represent the 50,000 Venetians who died in the plague.

The painting is part of a group focused on types of Christian Baptism. Facing it across the hall is the Baptism of Christ; on the ceiling between the two are images of Moses' Water Miracle and Jonah's release from the whale. The latter contemplates immersion as representing death to sin, as does the background of the Moses image, where Pharaoh's army perishes in the sea.

About the terminology: The title "Probatic Pool" used at the Scuola derives from the Latin of John 5:2, which calls it probatica piscina, piscina meaning "pool" in Latin and probatica (προβατικῇ) with the same meaning in Greek. The Greek calls the pool βηθεσδα ("Bethesda"), and modern English translations follow suit, but the Vulgate and Douay-Rheims have "Bethsaida."

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Photographed at the site by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.