- Museum number
Esau selling his birthright to Jacob; Esau standing at left carrying his bow and quiver and wearing a turban, shaking the hand of Jacob who sits at a table to right. c.1640-1641
Pen and brown ink, with greyish brown wash mixed with some white heightening; the graphite traces recorded by Benesch cannot be distinguished
Verso: laid down on old mat, but studied with light from the back; see Inscriptions.
Watermark: fool’s cap (Those parts that can be made out resemble the mark on Rembrandt’s drawing of 'Boaz and Ruth' in the Rijksmuseum, Benesch 643; the mark is repr. Amsterdam, 1985, p.239, no.23, in which the drawing is dated by Schatborn to the mid-1640s).
- Production date
- 1640-1641 (circa)
Height: 200 millimetres (chain lines vertical, 22/24mm apart)
Width: 174 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Further literature: P. Schatborn, in H. Bevers et.al. 'Drawings by Rembrandt and his Pupils: Telling the Difference', exh.cat. The J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2009, cat.no.11.1 (as Rembrandt).
Entry from Martin Royalton-Kisch, 'Catalogue of drawings by Rembrandt and his school', 2010, Rembrandt, cat. no.34:
The subject is from Genesis, XXV, 29-34: Esau, returning exhausted and hungry from hunting in the fields, agrees to sell his birthright to Jacob, 'a plain man, dwelling in tents', in return for some 'bread and a pottage of lentils'. The subject was treated again in a drawing now in the Amsterdam Historisch Museum (Benesch 564), the attribution of which has been contested but which was probably made at about the same time. A distant relationship between the Rembrandt drawings and a print after Paulus Moreelse has been observed. It shows the two brothers seated to left and right, facing each other and shaking hands.
The present drawing has been dated variously from the mid-1630s to the late 1640s (see Lit. below). The datable works to which the drawing is stylistically most comparable are the 'Study of a kneeling Man' in Bayonne (Benesch 477), related to the etching of 1640 of 'The Beheading of St John the Baptist' (Bartsch 92, Hind 171) and the 'Two Men in Conversation', dated 1641, in the Courtauld Institute (Princes Gate Collection, Courtauld Institute, London, Benesch 500a). The Bayonne figure, though more liquidly handled, is shaded with small pockets of hatching that closely resemble those seen here, both in the figures and in the shadow behind Jacob. This kind of work reappears in the much larger (and therefore more broadly handled) study in the Courtauld Institute, in which the lines on the ground by the standing figure's feet are remarkably close to those depicting the shadow cast by Esau's legs in the present drawing. Although a slightly later dating cannot be entirely ruled out, these analogies suggest that the British Museum's drawing was made in about 1640-41.
The drawing was engraved by Simon Watts in 1765, when in the collection of Thomas Hudson, and the plate was published in Charles Rogers, 'Collection of Prints in Imitation of Drawings', London, 1778. A copy of it was drawn in the British Museum by E. V. Utterson (1775/6-1856), the collector (see L.909) and is now also in the Museum's collection (1996,0928.11).
 Benesch, 1955, dated it to around 1645; Broos, in Amsterdam, 1981, no.12, to c.1640-45; White, 1969, I, p.54, thought the Amsterdam version the earlier of the two, with which Broos agrees. Schatborn, 1982, p.254, rejects it, in my view probably correctly. A copy of the Amsterdam drawing is in the British Museum (H.129, inv.1873,0510.3544). Two later versions, in the Rembrandthuis and in Berlin, were accepted by Benesch (his nos.607 and 647). The former was described as a school work by Filedt-Kok in Amsterdam, 1972, no.VII; the latter also seems to be a pupil's work (as mentioned in Exh. London, 1992 and is published as such in Berlin, 2006, pp.212-3). Another school version was catalogued (as 'nicht ganz sicher') by Valentiner, I, 1925, no.57, repr. (formerly with F. Muller of Amsterdam).
 The engraver was Willem Swanenburgh (Holl.2, repr.), also repr. in Amsterdam, 1981, p.54, fig.c.
 White, loc. cit., rightly saw parallels with the etching of 'Abraham and Isaac' of 1645 (Bartsch 34, Hind 214); see also n.2 under Description on the watermark.
 A sketch in Amsterdam of a figure in a pose that resembles Esau's (Benesch 205) has recently been assigned to the same period by Schatborn in Amsterdam, 1985, no.18.
LITERATURE (always as Rembrandt):
Bürger, 1858, p.400 (subject not identified); Blanc, II, 1861, p.453; Michel, 1893, p.581 (subject unknown; erroneously as in J. Anderson collection); Kleinmann, IV, no.14; Bell, c.1905, repr. pl.IX; Hofstede de Groot, 1906, no.867; Becker, 1909, p.40; Wurzbach, 1910, p.417; London, 1915, no.33 (c.1635-40); Valentiner, I, 1925, no.56, repr. (c.1637); Kauffmann, 1926, p.176, n.1 (c.1637-8); Hind, 1932, p.49 (compares Fodor version, Benesch 564, and 'Three Beggars', here cat. no.7; Gg,2.252, Benesch 327); Benesch, 1935, p.42 (c.1648-50); Popham, 1939, p.68; Benesch, 1947, p.25 and no.159, repr. (c.1648-9); Benesch, III, 1955/73, no.606, repr. fig.737/779 (c.1648-9; anticipates style of 1650s; compares several sheets, none of which can be dated securely, some having since been rejected); Drost, 1957, p.185 (compares Elsheimer); Sumowski, 1961, p.12 (c.1640); White, 1962, repr. pl.5 (as Benesch); Rotermund, 1963, p.17, repr. pl.35 (Esau clearly characterised as a hunter); Benesch, 1964, p.149, reprinted 1970, p.269; White, I, 1969, p.54, II, repr. fig.59 (c.1648; later than Fodor version, Benesch 564; style resembles etched 'Abraham and Isaac' of 1645, Bartsch 34, Hind 214, with cross-hatching still supporting outline); Exh. Berlin, 1970, under no.11; Bernhard, 1976, II, repr. p.389; Amsterdam, 1981, p.53, repr. p.54, fig.b (improves on Fodor version of this subject, Benesch 564); Schatborn, 1982, p.254, repr. p.255, fig.4 (see n.1 above); Hoekstra, II (deel II), 1983, repr. p.37 (c.1648-50); Exh. Bremen, 2000-2001, p.49, under no.13, repr. fig.6.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1899, London, no.A30 (placed between drawings of 1640 and 1642);
1938, no.33 (c.1635-40);
1956, p.24, no.13;
1992, BM, Drawings by Rembrandt and his Circle, no.37
2004, April-June, Vienna, Albertina, 'Rembrandt', no.104
2006 BM, 'Rembrandt: a 400th anniversary display' (no cat.)
2009/10 Dec-Feb, Los Angeles, J Paul Getty Museum, Rembrandt and pupils
- Generally good, but some foxing (especially near the edges) and surface dirt; trimmed slightly irregularly; rubbed (an erasure) in lower left corner; what appears to be a brushmark across the lower edge is probably glue showing through from the verso.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Jonathan Richardson, sen. (L.2183); his sale, Cock’s, 11th day, 3 February, 1747 (1746 old style), lot 22? (‘Two 'Rembrandt', 'Jacob' and 'Esau', and the portrait of 'And.Dolia'’, the latter presumably Benesch 1186 in Berlin), sold for £1-3-0; Thomas Hudson (no mark, but engraved when in his collection by Simon Watts in 1765 – see further under Comment); John Barnard (L.1419 and 1420 verso; his sale, Greenwood’s, from 16 February, 1787, includes many pen drawings by Rembrandt of unspecified historical subjects); Rev. C. M. Cracherode (L.606), by whom bequeathed to the British Museum, 1799.
- Prints and Drawings
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