The Blessed Virgin compared to a jug of pure water and the infant Jesus to a lamp.



The Blessed Virgin compared to a jug of pure water and the infant Jesus to a lamp by Colin McCahon.
Reproduction permission courtesy of the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust.

Date Created



Hocken Pictorial Collections - 20,924


Married and living with his wife and young son near Nelson in 1946-48, McCahon turned from depicting landscapes to Christian imagery. By synthesizing disparate elements - portraiture, still life and symbolism (the lamp and jug) with words McCahon emphasized that his works had a message.

Purity and the innocence of childhood are memorialised in this momentous post-war work but it also carries art historical and filmic references. The Virgin Compared, McCahon revealed, owes its being both to the grisly sixteenth century painter Grunewald and to that cruel and beautiful film, Open City. Director Rossellini explained his aim in that film as being to show that acts of heroism and human kindness obviously spring from faith, and the brutalities of war from cynicism and absence of moral code.

McCahon's work was difficult to sell and was often ridiculed when it was exhibited. The religious paintings in particular attracted derisory comments from critics such as A.R.D. Fairburn who described them as being like graffiti on the walls of some celestial lavatory.

Formerly in the collection of Charles Brasch, this painting was reproduced in Landfall, the literary magazine he edited and used to help promote artistic reputations. Very few understood the painters need to map the relationship between man and his God as John Caselberg describes it, but without their crucial support McCahon would not have continued painting into the 1950s and beyond.

Lower right (l.r.) with brush: McCahon Nov ’48; through image with brush: the Blessed Virgin Compared to a jug of pure Water and the infant Jesus to a lamp.


1053 x 805 mm


oil on canvas stretched on board

Temporal Coverage


Given by Dr Charles Brasch, Dunedin, 1963.








McCahon, Colin, “The Blessed Virgin compared to a jug of pure water and the infant Jesus to a lamp.,” | OUR Heritage, accessed July 19, 2024,