Abraham's sacrifice; Abraham kneeling over his bound and naked son Isaac whose head is thrust back, an angel behind Abraham clutches his hand which has loosened its hold of the knife. c.1634-5 Red chalk, touched with black chalk and grey wash, on pale brown prepared paper Verso: Uninterpretable sketch Red chalk


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Department: Prints & Drawings

Registration number: 1897,1117.5

Bibliographic reference
Royalton-Kisch 2010 10 (Rembrandt)
Hind 1915-31 6
Benesch 1973 90

Dutch Roy XVIIc

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Object types
drawing (scope note | all objects)

paper (all objects)
drawn (scope note | all objects)
Production person
Drawn by Rembrandt (biographical details | all objects)
1634-1635 (circa)
Schools /Styles
Dutch (scope note | all objects)

The Angel preventing Abraham from sacrificing his son, Isaac; Abraham kneeling over his bound and naked son Isaac whose head is thrust back, an angel behind Abraham clutches his hand which has loosened its hold of the knife. c.1634-1635
Red chalk over black chalk, with grey wash, on paper prepared with light brown wash.
Verso: a rough composition study in red chalk.
Watermark: Eagle with Basel Crosier, similar to Churchill 438 (Basle 1633) and Hinterding A.a.a., datable 1635).

Inscription Content: Signed (?), recto, lower left, in the same red chalk as that employed in the drawing: ‘Rembrandt [the final ‘t’ unclear]’.

Height: 195 millimetres (chain lines vertical, 22-23mm apart)
Width: 147 millimetres

Good, though rubbed in parts; small repairs at top right and lower left corners; creased horizontally at top; scraped around Abraham’s head.

Curator's comments
Entry from Martin Royalton-Kisch, ‘Catalogue of drawings by Rembrandt and his school’, 2010, Rembrandt, cat. no.10.
A preparatory study for the painting of this subject in St Petersburg (Bredius 498, Corpus A108), which is dated 1635. The compositions differ substantially in the positions of the angel, of Abraham's right hand, and Isaac's left leg. The drawing was also used for a painted variant in Munich completed in 1636, where the angel's pose follows the drawing more closely.
The design, including the figures, was initially sketched lightly in black chalk. Subsequently, the red chalk was applied with varying degrees of pressure, often exceptionally hard: the upper outline of Abraham's right sleeve looks almost as if it has been indented. The grey wash was used last, to add shadow and model the forms, the tip of the brush at times clarifying the outlines, as for example in the face of the angel, the bundle of sticks on the right and beneath the figure of Isaac. The profiles of the latter's legs are seen in several positions.
The variant initial outlines make it unlikely that the study was made after the St. Petersburg canvas in order to prepare the second version of the painting in Munich of 1636, as has sometimes been pro-posed.[1] The improbability is reinforced by the different positions of the knife and of Isaac's left leg, which were changed for both paintings. The pose of Abraham, not fully resolved in the drawing, is also unlikely to have been based on the earlier painting as it is more-or-less identical in both oils.[2] However, recourse must have been had to the sketch for the pose of the angel in the Munich painting. Also in support of a dating before both the painted versions, it should be noted that the combination of red and black chalk with grey wash is encountered, for example, in the signed and dated drawing in Haarlem of 'Christ among his Disciples' (Benesch 89) of 1634, but not in later works. The style of parts of the Haarlem drawing is also comparable.
The slight sketch on the verso is difficult to decipher, but seems to be a study for the lower half of the same design.[3] If this reading is correct, it makes it yet less likely that the drawing was made after the completion of the St. Petersburg painting.
Rembrandt later returned to the subject of the 'Sacrifice of Isaac' in an etching of 1655 (Bartsch 35, Hind 283) which is reminiscent of his earlier design.[4] All Rembrandt's versions depend on earlier treatments of the subject by Rubens and, in particular, Pieter Lastman.[5] It has also been noted that the compositions of the 1630s depart from the biblical text, which states that the angel interceded as Abraham reached for the knife. The later moment chosen by Rembrandt coincides with a mention of the story by Jacob Cats in 'Houwelyck', first published in 1625.[6]

[1] E.g. by Sumowski, 'Gemälde', II, 1983, under no.611, with earlier literature apart from van de Wetering, 1977, p.41, n.44 (a text that is reprinted, with variations, in Corpus, I, 1982, p.22 notes 42-3), who also suggests that the drawing was made between the St. Petersburg and Munich paintings. According to P. van Thiel (in Exh. Berlin-Amsterdam-London, 1991-2, p.182) the initial lay-in of the Munich picture followed that in St. Petersburg. This is corroborated by the findings of the restorer, the late Hubert von Sonnenberg, who found traces of the earlier position for the angel underlying the Munich version (visible in infra-red light). His findings were made public at the Symposium in London, National Gallery, 23 May, 1992.
[2] Now usually identified as Govert Flinck (see Sumowski, loc. cit.) or Ferdinand Bol (see Corpus, under no.A108). The work is signed by Rembrandt to the effect that he changed and overpainted it ('Rembrandt, verandert. En over geschildert. 1636').
[3] This reading requires turning the sheet 90º clockwise (as in the illustration here) and interpreting the short, emphatic dash, upper centre, as Abraham's knife, with an arm reaching towards it from the right, and an apparently bearded figure (Abraham) to the left.
[4] As pointed out by White, 1969, II, p.93. A related drawing at Compiègne was published by Sumowski, 1971, p.136, repr. fig.15 (rejected by Bruyn, 1990).
[5] See Broos, 1977, pp.51-2 (with previous literature) and Exh. Amsterdam, 1985-6, under nos.1-2.
[6] Kauffmann, 1920, p.69. The same book by Cats contains an illustration that appears to have influenced another work of the same period, the 'Ecce Homo' grisaille in the National Gallery, of 1634 (Bredius 546, Corpus A89) - see Bauch, 1960, pp. 192-5.

LITERATURE (always as Rembrandt unless otherwise stated):
Kleinmann, IV, no.23; Bode and Hofstede de Groot, III, 1899, under no.208 (for Munich painting); Lippmann, IV, no.81; Bell, c.1905, p.16, repr. pl.I (for St. Petersburg painting); Hofstede de Groot, 1906, no.866 (c.1636, for Munich painting); Valentiner, 1906, p.174 (for Munich painting); Valentiner, 1908, p.565, under no.515 (for Munich painting); Becker, 1909, p.102; Wurzbach, 1910, p.417 (for Munich painting); Hind, 1912, I, p.51; London, 1915, no.6, repr. pl.II (for St. Petersburg or Munich painting); Hofstede de Groot, 1915[I], p.84, repr. fig.8 (a pupil followed the drawing for the angel in Munich painting); Hofstede de Groot, VI, 1916/15, p.28, under no.8 (for Munich painting); Kauffmann, 1920, p.69 (see n.6 above); Valentiner, I, 1925, no.48 (1635-6, for Munich painting); Weisbach, 1926, p.190 (compares with Munich painting); Kauffmann, 1926, p.175, n.2 (for St. Petersburg painting); Van Dyke, 1927, p.51 (by Bol, for his painting in Munich); Müller (Hofstede), 1929, pp.66-7, repr. p.65, fig.16 (after St. Petersburg painting, for Munich version; stresses Lastman influence); Schneider, 1932/73, p.49 (influenced Lievens painting of the subject in Rome [repr. Sumowski, 'Gemälde', III, 1983, no.1194]); Benesch, 1935, pp.21 and 25 (for St. Petersburg painting and used for Munich painting); Benesch, 1935[I], p.263 (for St. Petersburg painting); Popham, 1939, p.68 (echoes of earlier Mannerists); Benesch, 1947, p.22, no.49, repr. (for St. Petersburg painting); 'Rembrandt Bible', 1947, no.6, repr.; Rosenberg, 1948/64, I, p.225/354, n.8 (for Munich painting); Benesch, 1954/73, I, no.90, repr. fig.98/105 (for both paintings; Lastmanesque); Benesch, 1955, p.396, reprinted 1970, p.183 (Caravaggesque); Gerson (and J.G. van Gelder), 1957, p.124 (van Gelder: Flinck?; Gerson: Rembrandt); Valentiner, 1957, p.55 (probably used by Bol, who may have made Munich painting); Sumowski, 1957-8, p.237 (used by Flinck for Munich painting); Benesch, 1960, p.17 and no.13, repr. (as in 1935; chose moment of highest tension); Haverkamp-Begemann, 1961, p.22 (pupil's work based on St. Petersburg painting, perhaps for Munich painting); Sumowski, 1961, p.4 (for Munich painting); Gantner, 1964, p.51; von Moltke, 1965, p.13 (for Munich painting and after St. Petersburg version); Slive, 1965, II, no.530, repr. (for Munich painting); Bauch, 1966, p.29, under no.A10 (for Munich painting); Rosenberg, Slive and ter Kuile, 1966, p.83 (for Munich painting); Wegner, 1966, p.103 (notes literature ignored by von Moltke, 1965); Exh. Munich, 1966-7, p.36, under no.66 (for Munich painting); Munich, 1967, p.73 (for Munich painting; quotes Haverkamp-Begemann, 1961); Gerson, 1968, pp.64 and 226, repr. fig.a (for Munich painting): Haak, 1969/68, p.126, repr. fig.193 (c.1635, for Munich painting); Waals, 1969, p.99 (between the two paintings); Campbell, 1971, pp.29-30 (follows Benesch but contrasts Lastman's version of the theme); Broos, 1972, p.147, repr. fig.13 (for Munich painting); Loevinson-Lessing, 1974/71, under no.10, repr. (between the two paintings); Bernhard, 1976, II, repr. p.155; Sciolla, 1976, p.6 (for St. Petersburg painting); van de Wetering, 1977, p.41, n.44 (for St. Petersburg or Munich painting); Clark, 1978, p.124, repr. fig.137 (for St. Petersburg painting; contrasts later etching); Vogel-Köhn, 1981, p.18 (as Benesch); Corpus, I, 1982, p.22, nn.42-3 (for Munich painting?); Bruyn, 1983, p.54, n.12 (as Haverkamp-Begemann, 1961); Sumowski, 'Gemälde', II, 1983, p.1018, under no.611 (for Munich painting); Corpus, II, 1989, pp.106-7, repr. fig.5 (workshop; signature dubious; based on St. Petersburg painting, perhaps by the pupil – Bol? – who executed the Munich version, or else based on the latter [cf. Van Dyke, 1927, and Valentiner, 1957]); Royalton-Kisch, 1989 (1990), pp.139-40, verso and recto repr. figs.22-3 (publishing verso; both studies of c.1634 for St. Petersburg painting); Haverkamp-Begemann, 1992, p.464 (not Rembrandt; a studio variant; follows Müller Hofstede, 1929); Klessmann, 1992, p.449, repr. fig.3 (stresses influence of Rubens' painting in Kansas); Schatborn, 1994, p.21 (convincing as Rembrandt); Giltaij, 1995, p.98 (a pupil's imitation of Munich painting); Schwartz, 2006, p.346, repr. fig.615 (as Müller-Hofstede, 1929); Tümpel, 2006, p.491, repr. fig.6 (summarises opinions; iconographic discussion of the two paintings).

Literature after Royalton-Kisch 2010: Holm Bevers, review of Martin Royalton-Kisch catalogue, in The Burlington Magazine (2013), p.103 (as School of Rembrandt).

old testament (all objects)

Associated names
Representation of Isaac (biographical details | all objects)
Representation of Abraham (biographical details | all objects)

Acquisition date

Acquisition name
Purchased from Dr J Law Adam (biographical details | all objects)

Acquisition notes
The British Museum’s manuscript Reports for 1897 give the name as ‘Dr Law Adam / 16 Vicarage Gate, Kensington’; the Departmental Register gives the name as ‘Dr Adams’. No other information about him is known, but the sheet came from him along with a miscellaneous group of prints and drawings. Many drawings of the subject by Rembrandt are mentioned in early sale catalogues. An ‘Abraham offering up Isaac’ appeared in the sale of Samuel Woodburn, Christie’s, 9th day, 26 June, 1854, lot 2193, sold with one other to C. Hall for 4s, (first noted in British Museum files by C. White); another appeared in a later Woodburn sale, Christie’s, 13 June, 1860, lot 1381, bt with one other by Robinson for 15s; perhaps more plausibly the present sheet was that in the Andrew James collection, listed there as a slight sketch by Waagen , 1857, p.214 and Brunet, 1866, p.260, and sold in James’ sale, Christie’s, 28 April, 1873, lot 62, bt Col, £9-15-0. The extraordinary sum of £189 was made by another drawing of the subject, said to have come from the Lawrence and Esdaile collections, sold at the Bale sale, Christie’s, 15th day, 10 June, 1888, lot 2436, bt Thib[audeau?].

Exhibition History
1899, London, BM, no.A4 (for Leningrad or Munich painting);
1938, London, BM, no.6;
1956, London, BM, p.24, no.8 (for Leningrad painting);
1985/6, Amsterdam, no.2 (1635-6; composition depends on Lastman and Rubens);
1992, London, BM, no.13, repr. in colour (drawn c.1634-5 before both the painted versions);
1996 Sep-Nov, Manchester, Manchester City AG, 'The Inner Eye', no.176
1996/7 Nov-Jan, Brighton, Museum and AG, 'The Inner Eye', no.176
1997 Jan-Mar, Swansea, Glynn Vivian AG, 'The Inner Eye', no.176
1997 Apr-Jun, London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, 'The Inner Eye', no.176
1997/8, Melbourne-Canberra, no.74, repr. in colour;
2003/4 Dijon, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 'Rembrandt et son école';
2004 Mar-Jun, Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, 'Rembrandt: Sacrifice of Isaac'.

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