Job on his Dung-hill visited by his Friends and his Wife; illustrator of Petrus Comestor’s Bible; 1372; miniature; Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague


Poor Job

Unerstand the scene

Jobis sitting on his dung-hill and his body is covered with ulcers.

Job is a rich Israelite who believes in God. The latter accepts that the devil should put his faith in danger by making him very unfortunate. Job loses everything, becomes poor and ill.

The word “dung-hill” is probably not appropriate and it is better to speak of an ash-heap, but the two elements are not far removed from each other since Jews often used dried dung as fuel. In any case, if ashes are a sign of poverty, dung marks contempt. As for the ulcers, they become a sort or leprosy to better evoke a terrible disease.

Job seems resigned; he is the very typical example of patience, hence the occasional presence of a tortoise that was its symbol for medieval people.

Several characters are often with Job: some friends, his wife and even a devil.

Job is mocked at by his three friends and tormented by his wife. But these four persons are seldom together and we have slightly different scenes. Though his friends content themselves with speaking to him, his wife is more expressive; she holds him out a crust of bread with tongs, she holds her nose, she pours some water on his wounds… As for the devil, he grins and indicates he is at the origin of the misfortune striking Job.


The biblical narrative

The Book of Job, chapter 2

Job is a pious and just man; he lives in affluence and happiness, but Satan wishes to test him and show to God that any man whose possessions and flesh are hit will curse Him.

So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.

And he took a potsherd with which to scrape himself ; and he sat down among the ashes.

Job successively receives the visit of his wife and of his three friends.

Then his wife said to him, Do you still retain your integrity? curse God, and die.

But he said to her, You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, everyone came from his own place; for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him.

And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and did not know him, they wept; and they rent every one his mantle, and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. (Job 2:7-12)

But his friends soon try to convince him that his misfortunes come from his faults. Job refuses their arguments and claims his innocence. Eventually Job’s perseverance prevails; he will recover his possessions a family and will live until he is “old and full of days
Job 42:17).


The Book of Job is a great classic of world’s literature and Job is the symbol of the just man who is hit by misfortune without committing the least fault.

His story then criticizes the theory of retribution that directly links the misfortune of individuals and their faults or sins. Evil remains a mystery for Job but, his confidence in God being still intact, he will come out of the ordeal.

See similar pictures


The emphasis is put on Job’s misfortune and patience in front of his friends and his wife  

Job on the Dunghill is Afflicted with Leprosy to the Dismay of His Friends; Jean FOUQUET; miniature in Hours of Étienne Chevalier; 1452-60; Musée Condé, Chantilly, France

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The Patience of Job; Gerard SEGHERS; oil on canvas; National Museum, Prague.

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Job’s friends pity him and lament, then they scold him. This narrative has inspired Blake very much.


After Job’s Comforters; William BLAKE; c. 1805-06; watercolour; Morgan library, New York



After Job being scolded by his Friends; William BLAKE; c. 1805-06; watercolour; Morgan Library, New York


Job’s wife harasses him; she cannot understand why he does not rebel against God.


Job and his Wife; Georges DE LA TOUR; c. 1650 ; oil on canvas; Musée Départemental des Vosges, Épinal, France

Olga's Gallery - Online Art Museum


Job and his Wife ; Albrecht DÜRER; 1504; oil on panel; Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, Germany

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Two representations of the devil testing Job. The Flemish painting juxtaposes the episodes after the manner of a comic strip, to be read clockwise.


Job on the Dung-hill; attributed to Colin NOUAILHIER; 1530-60; enamel on copper; Musée du Louvre, Paris

 In secula



Scenes from the Life of Job; unknown Flemish Master; 1480-90; right panel of an altarpiece ordered by the prior Claudio Villa; Wallraf-Richarz Museum, Cologne.

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Further developpements



Through the centuries, Job had remained the typical figure of human distress

in front of suffering that nothing, nor anybody, can justify. André Malraux sees in him the first man who has dared to question God in his silence.


Job has been related to Faust for, in both cases, the story begins with a wager between God and Satan but the two heroes are quite different.



The expression “as poor as Job” has remained popular but it has a simply material meaning whereas Job has lost not only his possessions but also his children and his health and everybody laughs at him and blames him.



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