ABRAHAM ENTERTAINING THE ANGELS

ABRAHAM ENTERTAINING THE ANGELS

Rembrandt Van Rijn
ABRAHAM ENTERTAINING THE ANGELS
etching & drypoint
1656

An original Rembrandt Van Rijn etching & drypoint print.

1656

Original etching and drypoint printed in black ink on laid paper. 

Signed and dated in the plate lower left Rembrandt 1656

A strong and dark 17th century/lifetime impression of Bartsch, Usticke and New Hollstein’s only state of this scarce etching, characterized by G.W. Nowell-Usticke in his 1967 catalog Rembrandt’s Etchings: States and Values, as “a very desirable print,” showing traces of burr and inky plate edges. 

Catalog: Bartsch 29; Hind 286; Biorklund-Barnard 56-B; Usticke 29; New Hollstein 295.

6 3/8 x 5 inches

This story of divine visitation and hospitality (Genesis 18:1-15) begins with the 90 year old patriarch Abraham seated at the entrance to his home.  He looks up and sees three men.  He rushes to greet them and offers them full hospitality: the washing of their feet, rest in the shade of a tree, a calf slain to provide meat, cakes that he asks his wife Sarah to bake, as well as butter and milk.  As the narrative unfolds it becomes evident that one of the mysterious strangers is, in fact, Jehovah.  The Lord asks after Sarah and informs Abraham that the aged Sarah will conceive and give birth to a son (Isaac).  The barren Sarah, surprised, laughs out loud at the idea that she should have pleasure in her old age and is reproved by the Lord, who reminds her that with God, all things are possible.  Frightened, Sarah denies that she had laughed.
In Rembrandt’s etching of 1656, the guests are seated on the ground on a carpet, Near Eastern style, but they have been accommodated on the threshold, the porch or terrace, of Abraham and Sarah’s house.  Abraham, who holds a pitcher, is serving them.  He occupies a conspicuously lower position and humbly inclines his head while being addressed by the chief of the visitors.  Behind them the 13 year-old Ishmael, the child of Abraham and the maidservant Hagar, both of whom are soon to be displaced by the birth of Isaac, leans over the parapet to shoot his bow.  Ishmael was, of course, to become a skilled bowman and warrior.  Within the dark interior, Sarah, smiling to herself, listens behind a half-open door.  The most prominent of the three guests, the Lord God himself, is wingless and has a long white beard.  He gestures toward his host while holding Abraham’s cup of hospitality, imparting the news of the coming miraculous birth.  The two angels who accompany God are highly unconventional hybrid creations: a combination of the “men” referred to in the Bible text and traditional angels, they have highly individualized features, heavy beards, receding hairlines, and wings!
The copper plate bearing this subject seems to have left Rembrandt’s possession early on, having been created about the time of his bankruptcy proceedings in 1656.  It is very likely the only Rembrandt copper etching plate to survive that was not to one degree or another reworked at the hands of later publishers in order to extend its life.  The reason for its relatively pristine condition is that it was acquired by the Flemish painter, Peeter Gysels (1621-1691), or someone in his circle, and the smooth, unworked back of the plate was used as the support for a miniature landscape painting executed in the style of Jan Bruegel.  This plate was acquired in 1997 by the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

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