Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, René von Schleinitz Memorial Fund, by exchange
The humble, impoverished Ruth (kneeling) gleans—that is, collects grain left behind by reapers (right)—while the owner of the field, Boaz (standing), tells her she is welcome to glean in his field any time, in this 1825 painting by German artist Josef Anton Koch. Ruth is the most “virtuous” of Mary’s ancestresses named in Matthew’s genealogy. A Moabite widow, Ruth has accompanied her also-widowed Judahite mother-in-law Naomi to Bethlehem. The younger woman’s care for Naomi has not gone unnoticed by Naomi’s kinsman Boaz, who not only invites Ruth to glean in his field but also consents to marry Ruth after she visits him in the night and boldly propositions him. Ruth’s effort to continue her dead husband’s bloodline—and her willingness to risk accusations of being a harlot in the process—make her a favorable predecessor to Mary, who (according to the Gospel of Matthew), also had to endure the suspicion of being pregnant by a man who was not her betrothed husband.