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Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn
(Leiden 1606-1669 Amsterdam)

“Abraham casting out Hagar and Ishmael [Genesis 21:9-14]”

etching, with touches of drypoint, with fine margins all around. partial watermark visible of a coat of arms.
125 x 95 mm
signed and dated upper right: Rembrandt | f. 1637
More info

Bartsch 30; Seidlitz 30; Hind 149; White-Boon 30,;
The New Hollstein Dutch no. 235, only state
Plate not in existence – with Nowell-Usticke (1967): C1+

Notes 

The theme depicted is a famous Old Testament story (Genesis 21-14). Abraham’s wife,
Sarah, is angry that Hagar, his second wife and mother of Ishmael, have both been
mocking her and Sarah’s very young son, Isaac. She demands their banishment into the
wilderness of Beersheba, and Abraham complies: ‘The matter distressed Abraham greatly,
for it concerned his son. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and
a skin of water, and gave them to Hagar. He placed them over her shoulder, together with
the child, and sent her away.’
Rembrandt’s etching of the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael reflects the dynamic
between the participants involved. The imposing figure of Abraham is given centre stage.
Abraham’s body is interposed between the two families who are to be fatefully separated.
Sarah will remain in the house of Abraham with her son Isaac (barely visible, sheltering in
the doorway). Their gloating facial expressions are a telling indicator that Sarah has
succeeded in her demands.

Abraham’s body language exhibits his ambivalence. The weight of his body is balanced on
his left foot, towards Hagar and his first-born son Ishmael. Yet his right foot draws him
back into the house. His left hand reaches out, perhaps to bless the departing woman and
child, but unable to do more than grasp at air since they have already begun their journey.
Rembrandt demonstrably portrays Hagar’s pain. Her weeping is made audible through the
blowing of her nose, altough the damage to this impression compromises this. Rembrandt
also evokes the pity of the viewer by transforming Ishmael, who in the biblical narrative is
at least 13 years old, into a little boy, his back turned to the viewer. The family dog,
oblivious to the tragedy, appears to be cheerfully following the banished pair.
Note how Rembrandt has slung a quiver of arrows over the boy’s back. This seemingly
refers to Genesis 21-20, which describes Ishmael as growing up to become a skilful
bowman in the wilderness. Through this detail, perhaps Rembrandt has subtly explained
the motivation behind the banishment of Ishmael, hinting at his violent tendencies and
his destiny to forever be at odds with his kinsmen.

Provenance

From a private German collection;
From a private Dutch collection.

Condition

Excellent print with a fine margin around the plate edge. Tiny pinholes in the white
margin on the left, small annotations at the bottom right and a collector’s stamp slightly
translucent.

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