La pécheresse chez Simon

A Feast in the House of Simon the Pharisee; Peter Paul RUBENS; c. 1618; oil on canvas; the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

Web Gallery of Art


The sinning woman ar Simon's house

Understand the scene


The supper at Simon’s house brings together Jesus and several apostles but a woman is present and surprises by her attitude. She weeps on Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair. On her side, a flagon can be seen; it has contained the perfume she has previously poured over the feet she is wiping.

Even if the action is rejected to the side, the gesture is rather unusual so as to attract the spectator’s eye. The woman’s name is unknown but the tradition identifies her with Mary Magdalene.

Jesus is a guest among the others; he watches and speaks with other men protesting against this incident; he intervenes to justify the young woman’s gesture



How to place the woman and Jesus for the action not to be incomprehensible?

In Antiquity, guests were lying at the level of the table in front of them and therefore one could tend the feet of a guest by placing oneself behind him and standing.

But since the Middle-Ages, the participants have been represented sitting behind a table; the woman who wants to perfume and wipe Jesus’ feet can only be kneeling on the side, even lying on the ground under the table; which makes the scene slightly ridiculous.

The sinning woman is always represented in tears and with her dishevelled hair, she wipes Christ’s feet.



Do not confuse with

   All these pictures represent a supper

with a varying number of guests. A few details allow the spectator to distinguish between them and avoid any confusion.


 The anointing of Jesus at Bethany; Julius Schnorr von CAROLSFELD;
 1851-1860 engraving from “Bibel in Bildern”.

Pitt Emory


The same scene, but according to Mark and Matthew. During a banquet at Simon's house,  Jesus and a woman are in the foreground but, this time, the woman is standing and pours some perfume on Jesus’ head; this is the unction at Bethany made by Mary, Lazarus’ sister, always identified with Mary Magdalene.



The Wedding at Cana; Marten de VOS; 1596-97; oil on panel; De Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal, Antwerp.

Web Gallery of Art


Still another banquet but if jars are seen in the foreground or in evidence, it is the Wedding at Cana.

(See the Wedding at Cana)


The Last Supper; DUCCIO di Buoninsegna; 1308-1311; tempera on wood; Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena.

Web Gallery of Art


The Last Supper of Jesus and his apostles can also be depicted as a sort of banquet, and one disciple is leaning on Jesus’ breast, hence the possibility of confusion with the supper at Simon’s house, but the disciple is the Apostle John and he never touches his master’s feet.


(See The Last Supper)


The Supper at Emmaus; Diego VELASQUEZ; 1620; oil on canvas; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

 Web Gallery of Art


This is a more intimate meal with Jesus and two disciples upset by his death. They recognize the Risen Christ as soon as he shares bread. This is the supper at Emmaus for the two men were on the way to this city.

(See The Pilgrims at Emmaus)



The biblical narrative

The Gospel according to Luke, chapter 7

Jesus, who has been invited to the house of Simon the Pharisee, is at table when a loose woman enters with a vase of perfume:

[She] stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with her tears, and did wipe them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet…

Seeing that Jesus has not pushed back the sinning woman, Simon is shocked and thinks that Jesus does not know who she is, but Jesus says to him:

And he said to Simon, Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet: but she has washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but this woman has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I say to you: Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little. And he said to her: Your sins are forgiven… And he said to the woman: Your faith has saved you; go in peace. (Luke 7:38-50)

The same scene is related in Mark 14:3-9 and in Matthew 26:6-13. It takes place in Bethany at the house of Simon the leprous but this time the woman pours the perfume on Jesus’ head and she does not wipe it.

On the other hand, the Gospel according to John (12:1-8) takes up the gesture of the perfume on the feet wiped by a woman’s hair. This time, she is Mary, Lazarus’ sister, at Bethany.

The closeness of these versions explains the identification of the sinning woman at Simon’s house with Mary Magdalene.



In Luke’s narrative, the woman is a sinner whose gesture is at the same time a call for forgiveness and a token of love, hence Jesus’ comment and his eventual pardon.

In the other three narratives, it is a gesture announcing Jesus’ death and which triggers a debate: Should a costly perfume have been poured on Jesus or should the money have been given to the poor?

See similar pictures


The representation of the sinning woman wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair is not very easy except if one goes back to the oriental context in which Jesus is lying and not sitting. The title of Tissot’s painting refers to the gesture of Mary of Bethany in St John’s narrative.


Christ in the House of Simon; Dieric BOUTS; 1440s; oil on wood; Staatliche Museen, Berlin.

 Web Gallery of Art




The precious Ointments of Mary Magdalene; Jacques TISSOT; 1886-1894; gouache; Brooklyn, New York.

Art Renewal Center 


This picture from the 18th century creates a scene in a large space and a huge crowd but, be careful and look closely at the young woman = there are two different anointments


A Woman anoints Jesus with Oil; copperplate from “Historiae celebriores Veteris Testamenti Iconibus Representatae” by Caspar Luiken; 1712.

Pitts Theology Library,



Christ at Supper with Simon the Pharisee, with the Anointment of Christ’s Feet by Mary Magdalene; Giovanni TIEPOLO; c. 1785; pen and brown and grey ink, brush and brown and grey wash, over black chalk; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

Paul Getty trust


This is the other unction at Bethany; the woman pours perfume on Jesus’ head. One cannot mistake the scene since the woman is standing. Its representation is rarer.


 The anointing of Jesus at Bethany; Julius Schnorr von CAROLSFELD;
 1851-1860 engraving from “Bibel in Bildern”.




The Supper at Bethany, Christ’s Head is anointed by Mary Magdalene; Master François; c. 1475-80; miniature; manuscript MMW 10 A 11, book 1,13; Museum Meermanno Westreenianum, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague





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