In painting the biblical story of Jacob, Rembrandt chose to depict a sympathetic moment of reconciliation and acceptance, rather than a painful moment of conflict.
In a film, you can tell the whole story. You have two hours in which to portray it. The author of a book does this in a similar way. For a painting, however, the artist can choose only one moment to tell the whole story. Which moment do you choose? It is traditional to choose the decisive moment: the point at which fortune turns. It may be a miracle, a conversion, a liberation, a salvation, a judgement or a discovery. For the painting of Jacob blessing his grandsons, Rembrandt chooses the scene just after the moment of a conflict between father and son: a moment of reconciliation and acceptance.
The moment of reconciliation
The painting shows the biblical figure of Jacob on his deathbed blessing Ephraim and Manasseh, the children of his son Joseph. Joseph has brought his sons to his dying grandfather to receive his blessing and acceptance as his own sons. In the biblical story, the grandfather ignores the right of the first-born and lays his right hand on the head of the younger grandchild. He appears to do so deliberately, which leads to great confusion. Rembrandt, however, portrays it very differently to usual.
Quarrel between father and son
Usually, this scene bears witness to a conflict between father and son. X-rays of the painting show that Rembrandt originally wanted to portray this conflict as well, but chose a different approach in the end. In Rembrandt’s story, Joseph realises that his father has deliberately placed his hands differently. The son is gently supporting his father’s hands with his fingertips. The blessing is a meaningful act that will eventually lead to peace. Rembrandt painted this work in the year he went bankrupt, at a time when he, too, sought peace of mind and acceptance of his fate.
By painting light-coloured clothing in the parts of the painting that were lit up, Rembrandt heightened the effect.
From the whole biblical story, Rembrandt chooses the moment of acceptance and reconciliation between father and son.
Rembrandt wanted to find contentment and assurance in life. He sought inner peace and acceptance of his fate
Over het schilderij
- Jacob blessing the sons of Joseph, 1656
- Oil on canvas, 173 x 209 cm
- Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Kassel
On display at the ‘Late Rembrandt’ exhibition will be more than a hundred works created during the last phase of Rembrandt’s life. To get you in the mood, here are twelve works included in this spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime exhibition.
The Syndics, 1662
A meeting of five important inspectors of the Amsterdam drapers’ guild behind a table. Rembrandt turned this meeting into a visually exciting scene.Read more
Self Portrait with Two Circles, ca. 1665-1669
Rembrandt made many self-portraits during his career. What makes this one so notable is his ruthless honesty in portraying himself.Read more
Bathsheba with King David’s Letter, 1654
This is one of the most famous paintings hanging in Louvre. Here we see a beautiful young woman bathing. She has just read a letter and now finds herself in a dilemma.Read more
The Jewish Bride, ca. 1665
What you immediately notice about this large painting is Rembrandt’s rough application of paint. In this work, Rembrandt broke with all conventions of the day by smeering on and scratching through the paint.Read more
The Family Portrait, ca. 1665
‘The Family Portrait’ has not travelled since 1956. Just for this once, it is on loan to the Rijksmuseum especially for this exhibtion.Read more
A Woman bathing in a Stream, 1654
Here we see an alluring woman wading through the water while slowly lifting the hem of her dress. But who is this beauty?Read more
Recumbent Lion, ca. 1660-1665
Rembrandt preferred to draw lifelike representations of things he saw around him in real life. This lion is a good example.Read more
A Young Woman sleeping, ca. 1654
This drawing of a woman taking a quick nap is very typical of Rembrandt: an artist who was always recording the little scenes in his everyday life.Read more
Jacob blessing the sons of Joseph, 1656
When painting this Biblical story about Jacob, Rembrandt chose an unexpected moment that must have been a surprising choice for viewers of his day.Read more
Titus at his Desk, 1655
Rembrandt made clever use of painting techniques to evoke a sense of endearment when viewing this work in which we can recognise his own son.Read more
The conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis, ca. 1661-1662
In this painting, Rembrandt made use of a clever and entirely new technique to tell a story.Read more
Portrait of Frederick Rihel on Horseback, ca. 1663
As an artist, Rembrandt was familiar with the rules of portraiture but he pushed the boundaries whenever possible.Read more