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Work Eliezer and Rebecca

Department of Paintings: French painting

Eliezer and Rebecca

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

Paintings
French painting

Author(s):
Kazerouni Guillaume

Painted for the banker Jean Pointel. This Biblical subject taken from Genesis prefigures the Annunciation: Eliezer, a servant of Abraham, was given the task of finding a wife for his son Isaac, and the picture shows the moment when he meets Rebecca drawing water from a well for her father's herds to drink.

A Poussin for Pointel

The picture was painted for the banker Jean Pointel, a great connoisseur and friend of Poussin's, in 1648. According to one of Poussin's biographers, André Félibien, the artist is supposed to have carried out the work in the presence of his patron, who was in Rome between 1647 and 1649. Pointel wanted a picture to rival The Virgin Sewing by Guido Reni (The Hermitage, Saint Petersburg), which had only just been acquired by Cardinal Mazarin. The composition was so successful that, as soon as it arrived in Paris, Pointel had several offers from connoisseurs wanting to buy the canvas. After Pointel's death the duke of Richelieu, another great Poussin collector, bought the painting, which he in turn sold to the king in 1665. This painting is one of Poussin's most accomplished and celebrated compositions, and has been copied many times.

A young woman of Chaldea

The painter was inspired by a story from Genesis in which Abraham, wishing to marry his son Isaac to a young woman from Chaldea, his native country, sends his faithful servant Eliezer out on a quest for the girl. Having reached Nahor, Eliezer is at a loss as to how to go on so he asks for God's help and is told that the young woman will reveal herself by offering water for both him and his camels to drink. Arriving at a well where many young girls are drawing water, he is ignored by all of them - only the beautiful Rebecca seems to care about his fate, and this is how Eliezer recognizes the one for whom he is searching. It is this precise moment that Poussin has chosen to depict. The young girl is putting her hand on her heart in a gesture of gratitude as Eliezer hands her the jewels he has brought and asks for her hand in marriage on his master's behalf.

In the style of Greek and Roman art

The scene is arranged as in a long frieze inspired by ancient sarcophagi. The two main characters are detached from the group and stand out in the foreground; the rest of the picture is made up of groups of young women, enabling Poussin to show off his great inventiveness through the variety of poses and expressions he gives to them. Many of these are inspired by his study of ancient reliefs. The balanced harmony of the composition is also due to a skillful blend of warm and cool colors, which distinguish the characters and make them stand out against the calm, imposing landscape of the background. This in turn is given extra life by the classically inspired architecture.

Technical description

  • Nicolas Poussin

    Eliezer and Rebecca

    1648

  • Oil on canvas

    H. 1.18 m; W: 1.99 m

  • Louis XIV Collection (acquired from the duke of Richelieu in 1665)

    Inv. 7270

  • Paintings

    Richelieu wing
    2nd floor
    Nicolas Poussin
    Room 14

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