Studies of Rembrandt's Angels



The Sacrifice of Isaac

The Angel Stopping Abraham from Sacrificing Isaac to God

Oil on canvas, 1634-5

The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia

“…God tested Abraham.  He said to him, “Abraham!”  “Here I am,” he replied.  Then God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love and go to the region of Moriah.  Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” …When he reached the place that God told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it.  He bound his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.  Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.  But an angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.  “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said.  “Do not do anything to him.  Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”  Genesis 22:1-19

 The painting dramatically illustrates the story of the faith of Abraham with bold chiaroscuro.  Rembrandt’s use of bold light that illuminates the major players of the scene clearly shows his mastery of light and shadow.  The drama is played out with the emotional and drama of the positions of the hands.  True to the Bible, Isaac is bound and held on the pile of wood.  The Angel Zadkiel (The Angel of Prayer and Charity) or Metatron (The angel of Thought and Communication) grasps and holds back the hand of Abraham and startled, he drops his knife.  Rembrandt captures a brief moment and freezes the action with the knife in mid air.  The tension is reflected in the face of Abraham and in the tension of his hands. 


The Angel Leaves Tobit and his Family

Etching, 1641

Second state of four.

Signed and dated:  Rembrandt f. 1641

Reference:  Bartsch 43; Hind 185; Münz 179; Boon 169


“And they were both troubled, and fell upon their faces; for they were afraid.  And he said to them, ‘Be not afraid, ye shall have peace… And now give God thanks: because I ascend to him that sent me…  And they rose up and saw him no more.” 

-- Tobit 12:16-21

Tobit and his son Tobias in the process of falling on their faces give thanks for the miracle sight performed on Tobit by the departing Angel Raphael.  Tobit was blinded by a bird and his faithful son traveled with a ‘companion’ to hunt for the ‘cure.’  The traveling companion who turned out to be an Angel directed Tobit to retrieve the bile or gall from a fish caught by the two and apply Tobit’s blind or film covered eye. Tobit is cured of his blindness.

This etching dramatically illustrates an emotional and passionate moment as the Angel flies toward Heaven in a stream of dazzling light.  He is already partially disappeared from view.  Below the Angel is a handler with a pack mule and an opened case filled with gifts which was to be given to Tobias’ traveling companion (the Angel Raphael).  One of the objects to be given lays on the floor to the left of the casket. The surprised Anna in panic drops her walking stick just as in Rembrandt’s 1637 artist’s panel painting in the Louvre it is illustrated in the process of falling.  Tobias’ family home is illustrated as the backdrop to this marvelous event with members of the household form a visual triangle filling the well composed image just behind the brilliant light and smoke left by the departing Angel.