Rembrandt chose to depict this oddly tense moment of discovery, when the reader is sure that the couple is doomed. Isaac, dressed in glittering gold, the thick paint of his sleeve wonderfully scratched with the end of Rembrandt’s paintbrush, looks at his pearl-adorned wife with love as he fondly touches his hand to her breast. She, in turn, reaches over her red gown to skim her fingers against his probing ones. It’s a completely unstudied pose—the pair is still, for another fleeting moment, unaware of the intruding king and their imminent danger. But Abimelech is nowhere to be found in this picture. He is us—purveyors of judgment, witnesses to a profound love.
It’s a stunning work of art, for its expressionistic brushstrokes and sense of color, but more so for the compassionate and personal look at a genuine moment of affection. Across the whole history of art, it’s rare to encounter unaffected sincerity, and this genuineness is underscored by the exceptional artistic freedom Rembrandt took in its composition. It’s unclear who commissioned the painting, but it was presumably the models, probably a well-to-do couple. Basking before it, Bikker couldn’t help but suggest a resonance between this painting and Rembrandt’s life.