Abraham dismissing Hagar and Ishmael
- Place of origin:
Rembrandt van Rijn, born 1606 - died 1669 (artist)
- Materials and Techniques:
oil on oak panel
- Credit Line:
Bequeathed by Constantine Alexander Ionides
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Paintings, Room 81, The Edwin and Susan Davies Galleries, case SOUTH WALL
CAI.78 is signed and dated Rembrandt f. 1640, and was generally accepted as an autograph work until1973. However, the earliest documented reference of 1671 to what appears to be CAI.78 already attributed it to 'a disciple of Rembrandt'. In vol. 3 of the Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings produced by the Rembrandt Research Project (1989) it is identified as 'A work probably executed in Rembrandt's workshop in 1640, perhaps attributable to Ferdinand Bol'.
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) was a Dutch painter, draughtsman and etcher. His name is now practically synonymous with the period known as ‘Holland’s Golden Age.’ He ran large workshops in Leiden and later in Amsterdam and was widely imitated in his own time and for centuries following. Ferdinand Bol (1616-1680) was one of his students.
While this painting was described in the 18th century as Abraham dismissing Hagar and Ishmael, from 1966 it was identified as the Departure of the Shunammite Woman,on the assumption that the woman on the donkey represents the woman who, after the death of her son, went to the prophet Elisha to ask for his help (2 Kings, 4, 24). A re-examination of the painting, scholarship and documents surounding this works suggest that the earlier identification is probably correct. The painting and composition adhere in most respects to scenes of Abraham dismissing Hagar and Ishmael and closely resembles Rembrandt's etching of the subject, signed and dated 1637 (Bartsch 30). The story of Hagar is found in the Genesis, chapters 16 and 21. Genesis 16:2-3 states that Hagar was an Egyptian servant belonging to Sarah, who, being barren, gave Hagar to her husband Abraham "to be his wife", so that he might still have children. She gave birth to a son, Ishmael. Fourteen years later, God granted Sarah a child, named Isaac. According to Genesis, God commanded Abraham to obey Sarah's wishes and expel Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness alone. Rising early in the morning, therefore, Abraham took bread and a container of water and sent his former consort, Hagar, and his son, Ishmael, away. The Biblical text suggests that Ishmael was about 13 when Sarah gave birth to Isaac and banished Hagar and her son. The boy looks closer to this age than the servant the Shunammite woman called for in the Book of Kings. Further the water bottle is slung over the saddle recalls the passage in Genesis 21, 14 ‘So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar...'
X-rays have demonstrated that the painting has been greatly repainted in the landscape and background, that the arch is a later addition, and that it may originally have depicted a day scene, later transformed into the curious spot-lit night seen now visible. A day scene would more closely correspond to the account in Genesis 21 which begins: ‘Abraham rose early in the morning…’ The presence of the quiver of arrows at the boy's hip fits with the story of Ishmael who 'grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow’ (Genesis 21, 20). Further, the presence of the donkey may be an allusion to the prophetic words of the Lord: ‘He [Ishmael] shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.’ (Genesis 16, 12). The interaction between the boy and the ass may allude to this, just as the quiver at his side may refer to his mastery of the bow.
At left, a bearded and turbaned Abraham gestures forward with his right hand, looking towards Hagar, mounted on a donkey draped with rugs and a water flask, at right Ishmael, wearing a diadem and a quiver of arrows restrains the beast by its harness, a cityscape visible in the distance at right
Place of Origin
Rembrandt van Rijn, born 1606 - died 1669 (artist)
Materials and Techniques
oil on oak panel
Marks and inscriptions
'Rembrandt f 1640'
Signed and dated, lower left
Height: 39 cm estimate, Width: 53.2 cm estimate, Height: 61 cm frame, Width: 75 cm frame
Object history note
Prov. Possibly Hendrick Uylenburgh; probably coll. Nicolaes van Bambeeck Jnr. (d. 1671; as 'een Abraham en Hagar, van een discipel van Rembrandt'); possibly coll. Adriaen Bout 1734 (as 'Abraham en Hagar door Rembrandt'); possibly sold Amsterdam 15-16 April 1739 (Lugt 503), no. 85 (as 'De uitdryving van Hagar en Ismaël, extra konstig, door Rembrandt van Rhyn' 42 guilders); probably coll. Willem Fabricius van Almkerk, his sale Haarlem, 19 Aug. 1749 (Lugt 709), no. 12 (as 'Abraham Hagar uitgfeleide doende, konstig en kragtig, door Rembrand van Rhyn, hoog 1 voet 3 duim, breed 1 voet 9 1/2 duim [= 36.4 x 53.3 cm, Haarlem foot of 11 ins.] 320 guilders to Van Dyk); Possibly Blackwood sale 1751, 2nd day, no. 51 (to Ellys) and possibly Rongent sale 1758, 2nd day, no. 58 (to Brandenburgh). These descriptions may refer to another work of the same title but of larger dimensions; Coll. Bouchier Cleeve (1715-60), Foots Cray Place (as 'Abraham and Hagar'); by descent to his daughter Elizabeth, who married, in 1765, Sir George Yonge, Bt (1731-1812); his collection, sold London (White), 23-4 March 1806 (Lugt 7046), 1st day, no. 32 (£43.1s. to John Parke); coll. John Parke, sold London (Coxe), 8-9 May 1812, (Lugt 8170), 2nd day, no. 29 (as 'Rembrandt. Abraham putting away Hagar; from Mr. Bouchier Cleve's Collection') £190; Woodburn sale, London 1818 (bought in); London (Christie’s), 16 June 1821, no. 58 (as 'Rembrandt. Abraham sending away Hagar, mounted on an Ass, which is led by a Cord by Ishmael [...] formerly in the collection of Bouchier Cleave, Esq. and subsequently in the collection of Sir Geo. Younge, Bt.') £110. 5s. to Norton?; Coll. J. Crespigny, 1838; coll. P.C. Crespigny, his sale London (Christie's) 23 April 1869, no. 31 £31. 10s.; by November 1881 coll. Constantine Alexander Ionides (his inventory, private collection, as 'Abraham dismissing Agar and Ismail', valued at £1,000); Bequeathed by Constantine Alexander Ionides, 1900.
Historical significance: CAI.78 is signed and dated Rembrandt f. 1640, and was generally accepted as an autograph work until1973. However, the earliest documented reference of 1671 to what appears to be CAI.78 already attributed it to 'a disciple of Rembrandt'. In vol. 3 of the Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings produced by the Rembrandt Research Project (1989) it is identified as 'A work probably executed in Rembrandt's workshop in 1640, perhaps attributable to Ferdinand Bol'.
From the time it was first recorded in the 17th century this painting has been described as Abraham dismissing Hagar and Ishmael. However, it was argued that the composition was unusual for this scene; in particular, it appeared to be the only example showing Hagar mounted. Consequently it was suggested by Hofstede de Groot (1899) and Bredius (1942) that it was ‘originally intended for a Flight into Egypt and afterwards altered by Rembrandt himself as a Dismissal of Hagar. This was a plausible hypothesis, but it was not supported by X-ray photographs, which showed no compositional changes of this kind. In 1966 an alternative interpretation was proposed by Dr Christian Tümpel (1966; 1969), who identified the scene as showing the Departure of the Shunammite Woman. After the death of her son, the Shunammite woman went to Elisha to ask for his help, and the scene shows her departure from her husband: 'Then she saddled an ass and said to her servant, drive and go forward ... ' (2 Kings, 4, 24). Tümpel argues that Rembrandt had derived the composition from one of a series of Old Testament engravings by Hans Collaert (1566-1628) after Maerten de Vos. The composition is comparable to that of the Departure of the Shunammite Woman in this series and the figure of the woman herself is very close to that in the next scene of this cycle, in which she is again shown mounted.
Despite the unusual representation of the woman on the donkey however, the painting and composition adheres in most respects to scenes of Abraham dismissing Hagar and Ishmael. A strong case in point comes from the hand of Rembrandt himself who etched the scene in an engraving signed and dated 1637 (Bartsch 30). Comparison of CAI.78 with the earlier engraving reveal strong similarities between the two. Both works feature an elderly man at left, followed by a grieving woman to the right and a small boy at the lower right. The figure of Abraham in the print is reproduced almost verbatim in the panel. His two-handed gesture, suggesting firm dismissal, is repeated in both and similarly, he wears a long beard, cloak and half-length tunic with wide sleeves, puttees on his feet and a turban on his head in both print and painted panel. Also following the figure of Hagar in the print, the mounted female raises a cloth in her hand to her face to wipe away her tears. At the far right in both compositions, a little boy with almost shoulder length hair wears a diadem about his head and a slashed tunic with a fringed hem. The Biblical text suggests that Ishmael was about 13 when Sarah gave birth to Isaac and banished Hagar and her son. The boy looks closer to this age than the servant the Shunamite woman called for in the Book of Kings. While the print depicts the boy from behind, he is represented from the front in the painting, grasping on to the rope secured to the harness of the ass in the act of restraining the beast’s anxious forward movement. In the painting, the boy wears a quiver of arrows at his hip which echoes the stick (perhaps a bow?) hanging from his belt in the print. A water bottle features in both works, extended towards Hagar by Abraham in the print and slung over the saddle beneath her left hand in the painting. The motif recalls the passage in Genesis 21, 14 ‘So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.’
The tall buildings evoked in the background of the print can be compared to those (now less visible) in the damaged background of CAI.78. As the X-rays have demonstrated, the painting has been greatly repainted in the landscape and background and the arch now visible at the upper right was painted over the buildings in the background at a later date. This arch finds close comparison however with the ruined arch at the left of the engraving which may have served as inspiration. While Tümpel’s comparison with the Collaert prints is compelling, the resemblances are fairly generic and do not prove that the painter of this panel intended to repeat all of the above mentioned elements in order to represent an different subject altogether. Further, Tümpel fails to account for the quiver at the boy’s hip. In fact the presence of the bow and arrows fit perfectly with the story of Ishmael, who, according to Genesis (which tells the story of the Dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael into the Wilderness): ‘And God was with the lad, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow.’ (Genesis 21, 20). While the author of this work may well have been inspired by Collaert’s prints to represent a woman mounted on an ass, he may also have known the prophetic words of the Lord regarding Ishmael: ‘He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.’ (Genesis 16, 12). Consequently, it is tempting to see the pulling interaction between the young boy and the ass in the painting as an allusion to his future just as the quiver at his side alludes to Ishmael’s imminent mastery of the bow.
X-ray photographs show that the painting has been altered considerably since it left the artist's studio. They reveal that large areas in the upper half of the picture originally consisted of sky rather than of dark foliage. Further, the shepherd, cows and sheep on the left are on a very small scale and would be more comprehensible in the middle distance of an open landscape. Furthermore, as the painting now stands, there is no apparent source of light. This also becomes more comprehensible if a day light scene is envisaged. If CAI.78 was originally a day scene which was later transformed into the anomalous night scene as it appears now, a close comparison could be made with contemporary works by Rembrandt, such as the Visitation of 1640 in Detroit. The X-ray photographs also revealed that the central part of the building on the right originally reached up to the edge of the painting. It would appear, therefore, that, an arch was painted over the sky in the centre and on the left, so that the original day light scene was transformed into a night scene. A day scene would more closely correspond to the account in Genesis 21 (cited above) which begins: ‘Abraham rose early in the morning…’
The work shows similarities with Pieter Lastman’s (1583-1633) oeuvre and it is no surprise that Rembrandt briefly studied in his workshop. Indeed, throughout his life Rembrandt reworked several of Lastman’s subjects and made them popular among his collaborators, which increased their distribution. Repeatedly he clearly extracted what Lastman had characterised in his works and infused it with a new poignancy.
Historical context note
History painting, i.e. depictions of non recurring events based on religious, classical, literary or allegorical sources, developed in particular during the second half of the 17th century in the Netherlands. Although, history painting began in the Netherlands in the late 15th and early 16th centuries with such artists as Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516), Jan Mostaert (ca. 1475-1555) and Lucas van Leyden (1494-1533), it had long been overshadowed by genre imagery. Dutch artists' new interest in naturalism transformed distant history paintings into contemporary scenes of everyday life, resulting in classical and biblical scenes that take place in Dutch settings with contemporary costumes along with the introduction in these pictures of historicised portraits, portraits histories.
Oil painting, 'Abraham dismissing Hagar and Ishmael', workshop of Rembrandt van Rijn, 1640
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Lammertse, Friso and Jaap van der Veen, Uylenburgh & Son: Art and commerce from Rembrandt to De Lairesse Zwolle: Waanders Publishers; Amsterdam: Rembrandt House Museum, 2006, pp. 196-7.
Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, pp. 234-236, cat. no. 292.
J. Smith, Catalogue raisonné of the works of the most eminent Dutch, Flemish and French painters, 1836, vol. VII, no. 3
A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, III, 1635-1642, J. Bruyn... [et.al], Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project, 1989, pp.542-550
R. and J. Dodsley, publ., London and its environs, ii, 176r, p. 314 (Cleeve collection, Foots Cray, Kent).
G. K. Nagler, Leben und Werke…Rembrandt van Ryn, 1843, p. 17
C. Vosmaer, Rembrandt, sa vie et ses oeuvres, 2nd ed., 1877, p. 522
C. Monkhouse, 'The Constantine Ionides Collection' in Magazine of Art, vii, 1884, pp. 36-44, 208-214, p. 214
E. Dutuit, Tableaux et dessins de Rembrandt (Supplément a l'oeuvre complet,1885, p, 49
Würzbach, Rembrandt Galerie, 1886, no. 269
E. Michel, Rembrandt, Eng. ed .. ii, 1894, p. 236
C. Hofstede de Groot (review of Amsterdam exhibition) in Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft; xxii, 1899, p, 163
W. Bode, The complete works of Rembrandt, iv, 1900, no. 240, repr
W. R. Valentiner, Rembrandt und seine Umgebung, 1905, p. 30
A. Rosenberg, Rembrandt, K. d. K., 3rd ed., 1909, p. 222, repr
Hofstede de Groot, C.A catalogue raisonné of the works of the most eminent Dutch painters of the seventeeth century : based on the work of John Smith London : Macmillan, 1907-1927, vi, 1915, nos. 5 & 6 (d)
Basil S. Long, Catalogue of the Constantine Alexander Ionides collection. Vol. 1, Paintings in oil, tempera and water-colour, together with certain of the drawings.
London : Printed under the authority of the Board of Education, 1925, p. 51, pl. 29
W. Weisbach, Rembrandt, Berlin, 1926, p. 218
R. Hamann, 'Hagars Abschied bei Rembrandt ...' in Marburger Jahrbuch für Kunstwissenschaft ; viii-ix, 1936, p. 515 f., fig. 68
A. Bredius, The paintings of Rembrandt, 1942, no. 508, repr
O. Benesch, The drawings of Rembrandt London, Phaidon Press [1954-57], p. 63.
Bauch, Rembrandt, 1965, no. 22, repr.; 3rd ed., rev. H. Gerson, 1969, pl. 422
C. Tümpel in Kunstchronik, xix, 1966, p. 302;
C. Tümpel, 'Studien zur Ikonographie des historischen Rembrandts' in Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, 20, 1969, p. 118, fig. 3, cf. figs. 6 & 7.
Krauss, Laura Greig. "The Departure of the Shunammite Woman, Rembrandt" in Hagar! A Feminist Reception-History Sampler of Global Art form the Eighth to the Twenty-first Century, D.Min dissertation, San Francisco Theological Seminary, unpublished 2010.
This painting was described as representing 'Abraham dismissing Hagar and Ishmael' from the 18th century. In 1899 it was suggested instead that it represented 'The Departure of the Shunammite Woman.' Recent technical examination and documentary research suggests that the earlier identification of the subject was correct and the work depicts Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael.
Oil paint; Oak
Flasks (bottles); Donkey; Quivers; Arrows
Paintings; Religion; Christianity; Christianity
Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection