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Relief - The Sacrifice of Isaac

The Sacrifice of Isaac

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Austria (made)

  • Date:

    1679 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Guissmann, Balthasar (made)

  • Materials and Techniques:


  • Credit Line:

    Given by Dr W. L. Hildburgh FSA

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Sculpture, Room 111, The Gilbert Bayes Gallery, case DR6

Ivory was popular as a material for religious subjects, especially during the 17th and 18th centuries. Spanish and Portuguese patrons imported ivories carved with Christian imagery from their territories overseas, such as the Philippines, Mexico and Goa. German and Netherlandish artists were renowned for their dexterity in ivory carving. Their reliefs are masterpieces of composition and virtuosity. Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his only son Isaac as a test of his faith. Just as he was about to strike his son, God released him and provided a ram for the sacrifice.
This relief is made by Balthasar Griessmann in 1679.
For many years Griessmann (ca. 1620-1706) was known only as the Monogrammist 'B.G.'. In recent years his identity has been established by Franz Wagner, who established from documentary sources that Griessmann worked in Vienna and Salzburg, concentrating on ivory vessels and dishes, although he also worked in stone and horn. Many of his ivory relief depend from South Netherlandish engraved sources, and have a distinctive figural style, crowed with small figures, often with windswept hair, and charming genre details. He may have trained in the Netherlands.
In the relief both Abraham and Isaac have hair formed of curly ringlets, which is typical of the work of Griessmann. This is the last known dated work by the artist. The composition may partly derive from a woodcut by Jörg Breu the Younger.

Physical description

Against a backdrop of trees and rocks, Isaac kneels on a stack of logs facing a large tree, his hands clasped. Beside him sits a small dog. The bearded Abraham wearing a flowing robe and sandals raises his sword as if to strike and is about to sacrifice Isaac. The blow is stayed by an angel descending from a cloud, who clutches the sword blade. A lantern is placed on the further side of the brazier. Abraham's hat is on the ground at the lower left. The right hand of the composition is dominated by a large tree trunk, the gnarled bark of which has parallels with other works by Griessmann. A squirrel and birds nestle in the tree's branches. Signed on one of the rocks 'B.G.'.

Place of Origin

Austria (made)


1679 (made)


Guissmann, Balthasar (made)

Materials and Techniques


Marks and inscriptions

On one of the rocks to the right.


Height: 16.3 cm, Width: 13 cm

Object history note

Given by Dr. W. L. Hildburgh, F. S. A.

Descriptive line

Relief, ivory, The Sacrifice of Isaac, by Balthasar Griessmann, Austrian, dated 1679

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Penny, Nicholas. Catalogue of European Sculpture in the Ashmolean Museum. 1540 to the Present-Day, Vol I Italian, Oxford, 1992, p. 129
Theuerkauff, Christian, ed. Elfenbein, Sammlung Reiner Winkler, Vol II, 1994, p. 60, no. 21
Kappel, Jutta. Elfenbein. Einblicke in doe Sammlung Reienr Winkler, exhibition catalogue, Dresden, 2001, cat. 14, p. 50
Trusted, Marjorie, Baroque & Later Ivories, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2013, cat. no. 10

Production Note

Signed with the monogram B.G.



Subjects depicted

Cloud; Rocks; Sword; Trees; Angel


Sculpture; Christianity; Religion


Sculpture Collection

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