Claude Gellee

Landscape with Jacob Wrestling with the Angel

Landscape with Jacob Wrestling with the Angel
(click image to zoom-in)
Author: Claude Gellee
Landscape, Painting, Oil on canvas, 113x157cm
Origin: France, 1672

"Landscape with Jacob Wrestling with the Angel" has traditionally been placed within the series of the "Four Times of the Day". It was painted for one of Lorrain's permanent clients, Henrich van Halmale, the dean of the Antwerp cathedral.

The subject of the painting is the story from Genesis relating how when he returned to his homeland in Canaan, Jacob became afraid of the vengeance of his elder brother Esau and so divided his flock and retainers, saying: "If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape" . Jacob himself remained on the bank of the river and all during the night till the onset of dawn he wrestled with God, Who appeared to him in the form of an angel. Having failed to overcome Jacob, the Angel blessed him and informed him that henceforth he would be victorious over all peoples and would be called Israel. Together with the scene of the fight, which appears at the centre of the composition, Lorrain shows us in the background Jacob's flock, which is departing along two roads: up the hill, to the temple; and across a bridge to the other side of the river. By depicting two events separated in time, the artist has developed the Old Testament subject across time and thereby enriched the very content of the painting.

According to the biblical text, the action occurs at the end of the night, and, true to his interest in conveying hardly detectable conditions of nature, Lorrain has depicted the moment of the onset of morning. He uses one of his favourite techniques: the light comes from the depth of space. The sun is hidden behind the horizon, and only an illumined edge of the cloud tells us it will soon be appearing. All the details of the composition - the trees, buildings, figures - are placed against the source of light. This creates an amazing effect: the viewer seems to be present in the painting and observing the start of a new day.

Personage: Jacob
Style: Classicism
Source of entry: Collection of Empress Josephine, Malmaison, 1815
Theme: The Bible and Christianity

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