A stunning work of art executed on oriental alabaster, this rare 17th-century painting is attributed to the French Baroque painter Jacques Stella. Luminous and dramatic, the work depicts the biblical tale of Jacob wrestling the angel in incredible detail. Stella perfectly incorporates the natural patterns of the alabaster with his rich color palette, exploiting the grain of the stone to add texture and depth to the dramatic scene. With its swirling bands of cream and brown, the marble-like stone creates a cavernous backdrop against which Jacob and his spiritual foe stand as immutable, almost mythic figures. The result is a work that is simultaneously corporeal and transcendent, demonstrating Stella’s unique style and remarkable skill as an artist of the Baroque age.
The illustrious Old Master’s gem-like oeuvre is celebrated for its use of stones in lieu of canvases and panels. This technique, once popular with Italian Renaissance artists in the 16th century, was effectively revived by Stella during the Baroque age a century later. Though French by birth, Stella’s early output was greatly influenced by Florentine art thanks to his appointment as a court painter to Cosimo II de' Medici in 1616. In Italy, Stella encountered the great masterpieces of the Renaissance, and it was there where he undoubtedly learned the technique of painting in oil on slabs of stone. His extraordinary success in the medium not only earned him favor among the Italian elite, including the Medici family and Pope Urban VIII, but it also led to his eventual appointment as court painter to King Louis XIII.
Following his appointment with the Medici in Florence, Stella moved to Rome, where he developed a close friendship with Nicolas Poussin, the leading painter of the classical French Baroque. Stella’s mature style, of which the present work is a stunning example, reveals the indelible influence this friendship made on his art. Sensitive to the nuances of color and gesture, Poussin’s classicism was more academic and contained than the provocative and psychological canvasses of his Italian Baroque counterpart, Caravaggio. His poetic and distinctly French Baroque style is seen clearly in Stella’s compositional harmony and remarkable draftsmanship, particularly in his treatment of his subjects’ flowing drapery and the angel’s porcelain-like skin. Combined with the techniques of the Italian Renaissance, Poussin’s influence elevated Stella’s oeuvre to entirely new heights.
After returning to Paris in 1635, he was appointed peintre du roi, and he continued to enjoy the patronage of wealthy families throughout Italy and France. More recent interest has arisen surrounding his work, including a retrospective of his work at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon in 2007. Today, his paintings can be found in important museums around the world, including the Musée du Louvre (Paris), the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.