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Le songe de Jacob

Prints and Drawings
17th century

Author(s):
Chabod Christine

With its uncluttered, balanced composition this remarkable drawing combines the real and the supernatural with the consummate ease that is so characteristic of Rembrandt's graphic style. The picture's direct simplicity, spiritual intensity and quickly-hatched, almost careless execution are tempered by white highlights placed with care and delicacy - an eloquent testimony to Rembrandt's innovative artistry.

A personal vision

On the road to Haran the sun has set and Jacob, putting down his staff, bag and water container, lays his head on a stone and sleeps. In a dream he sees a ladder reaching up to the sky, the heavenly host and God, who foretells the extraordinary destiny of his descendants, and grants him divine protection (Genesis 28: 10-22). Jacob sleeps at the center of the composition, with his head on his joined hands in a pose of utter simplicity. To the right, his bag and water container, and his staff leaning against a tree-stump, form a homely still life. In the upper left of the picture, two angels with outspread wings bend down towards him, in a vision. Rembrandt offers us a highly personal interpretation of this passage from the Old Testament. The dream-ladder joining heaven to earth is absent, while the everyday details of the scene serve to highlight the intense spirituality of God's emissaries.

A controversial date

Unanimously accepted by the specialists as an autograph work by Rembrandt, this drawing is generally assigned to the period 1635-42. A date of 1644 has also been suggested on the basis of stylistic similarities to the drawing of the Good Samaritan in the Berlin Kupferstichkabinet, dated that year: the latter features zigzag motifs comparable to those seen here. The Louvre drawing has also been dated to 1638-42, based on similarities to a drawing in the Boymans-van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam. The latter's iconography is similar but with significant differences, notably the presence of a group of cherubs at the center; however, its technique is less assured, suggesting that it may be derived from the present work. A date of 1641-45 seems most prudent for the Louvre drawing: the hatching used to convey areas of shadow, and the treatment of the tree-trunk, hands and faces are clearly similar to other works by Rembrandt from this period.

Art lovers have their say...

This drawing was very much admired in France in the eighteenth century: it was engraved by the Count de Caylus, and became the property of the noted collector Mariette, whose correct attribution to Rembrandt is indicated in a cartouche on the blue mount used for works in his collection, which has survived intact. Eighteenth-century art lovers prized the "high" style of the Carracci and Poussin, in complete contrast to the potentially shocking simplicity and spontaneity of Rembrandt's drawing. Mariette himself stated that in his own, perhaps rather harsh, judgment Rembrandt possessed "neither exactness of proportion nor nobility of expression." Yet his collection included eleven drawings by the master; clearly, he was far from indifferent to the quality of this remarkable work.

Bibliography

Bacou Roseline, Dessins du Louvre, écoles allemande, flamande, hollandaise, Paris, Flammarion, 1968, entry 81.
Bacou Roseline, in Rembrandt et son temps. Dessins des collections publiques et privées conservées en France, exhibition catalogue, Paris, musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, February-April 1970, entry 194.
Sérullaz Arlette Calvet, in Le cabinet d'un grand amateur P.-J. Mariette (1694-1774) : dessins du XVe siècle au XVIIIe siècle, exhibition catalogue, Paris, musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, April-December 1967, entry 192.
Starcky Emmanuel, Rembrandt et son école : dessins du musée du Louvre, exhibition catalogue Paris, musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, October 1988-January 1989, entry 30.
 

Technical description

  • REMBRANDT Harmensz. van Rijn (Leyden 1606 - Amsterdam 1669)

    Jacob's Dream

    1635-1645

  • Pen and brown ink, brown wash, white highlights

    H. 24.9 cm; W. 20.8 cm

  • Pierre-Jean Mariette Collection; sold Paris, 1775. The King's Chamber, or seized during the French Revolution?

    3922881

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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