Yet it was the Biblical dream—a communication from God—that artists were most often called upon to represent. The Old Testament stories of Jacob’s ladder and Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream were popular subjects. In both narratives, their dreams become important catalysts for change.
The dream of Jacob (ca. 1500), an oil-on-panel work by Nicolas Dipre, foregrounds Jacob, dressed ethereally in white, reclining outdoors with his head resting on a rock. His prophetic dream, in which angels mount a ladder to heaven, appears tangibly in the landscape behind his enclave. Jacob’s eyes may be closed, but his sight, the painting suggests, is clear.
Divine visions remained a popular challenge for centuries of Western artists, who imbued the well-worn stories with ulterior meanings. Ary de Vois’s version of Jacob’s dream (1660–80) is pointedly sensual. Jacob, nude save for a strategically placed bit of cloth, languorously stretches out on a patch of grass, his idealized body on full display. The ladder and angels appear far in the background, a decidedly less prominent focus of the picture compared with Dipre’s work. Here, Jacob’s vision from God is nearly ecstatic, offering pleasure to the sleeping figure much like Bernini’s famously erotic St. Teresa in Ecstasy (1647–52).