Rembrandt van Rijn, ‘ABRAHAM ENTERTAINING THE ANGELS’, 1656, Galerie d'Orsay

In excellent condition, with thread margins at the top, bottom and right sides, trimmed on the platemark at the left.

This story of divine visitation and hospitality (Genesis 18:1-15) begins with the 90 year old patriarch Abraham seated at the entrance to his home. He looks up and sees three men. He rushes to greet them and offers them full hospitality: the washing of their feet, rest in the shade of a tree, a calf slain to provide meat, cakes that he asks his wife Sarah to bake, as well as butter and milk. As the narrative unfolds it becomes evident that one of the mysterious strangers is, in fact, Jehovah. The Lord asks after Sarah and informs Abraham that the aged Sarah will conceive and give birth to a son (Isaac). The barren Sarah, surprised, laughs out loud at the idea that she should have pleasure in her old age and is reproved by the Lord, who reminds her that with God, all things are possible. Frightened, Sarah denies that she had laughed.
In Rembrandt’s etching of 1656, the guests are seated on the ground on a carpet, Near Eastern style, but they have been accommodated on the threshold, the porch or terrace, of Abraham and Sarah’s house. Abraham, who holds a pitcher, is serving them. He occupies a conspicuously lower position and humbly inclines his head while being addressed by the chief of the visitors. Behind them the 13 year-old Ishmael, the child of Abraham and the maidservant Hagar, both of whom are soon to be displaced by the birth of Isaac, leans over the parapet to shoot his bow. Ishmael was, of course, to become a skilled bowman and warrior. Within the dark interior, Sarah, smiling to herself, listens behind a half-open door. The most prominent of the three guests, the Lord God himself, is wingless and has a long white beard. He gestures toward his host while holding Abraham’s cup of hospitality, imparting the news of the coming miraculous birth. The two angels who accompany God are highly unconventional hybrid creations: a combination of the “men” referred to in the Bible text and traditional angels, they have highly individualized features, heavy beards, receding hairlines, and wings!
The copper plate bearing this subject seems to have left Rembrandt’s possession early on, having been created about the time of his bankruptcy proceedings in 1656. It is very likely the only Rembrandt copper etching plate to survive that was not to one degree or another reworked at the hands of later publishers in order to extend its life. The reason for its relatively pristine condition is that it was acquired by the Flemish painter, Peeter Gysels (1621-1691), or someone in his circle, and the smooth, unworked back of the plate was used as the support for a miniature landscape painting executed in the style of Jan Bruegel. This plate was acquired in 1997 by the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Signature: Signed and dated in the plate lower left Rembrandt 1656. 

Collections in which impressions of this etching can be found: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Museum het Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam; Baltimore Museum of Art; Kunstmuseum Basel; Kupferstichkabinett der Staatliche Museen, Berlin; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Braunschweig; Cabinet des Estampes, Bibliothèque royale de Belgiqie, Brussels; Szépmüvészéti Museum, Budapest, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge; The Art Institute of Chicago, Kunstsammlungen der Veste, Coburg; Statens Museum fur Kunst, Copenhagen; Graphischen Sammlung des Hessischen Landesmuseums, Darmstadt; Kupferstich-Kabinett der Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden; Scottish National Museum, Edinburg; Graphische Sammlung des Städel Museums, Frankfurt; Teylers Museum, Haarlem; Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg; Prentenkabinet der Rijksuniversiteit, Leiden; The British Museum, London; Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow; Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Morgan Library and Museum, New York; Castle Museum, Norwich; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; Musée du Petit Palais, Paris; Fondation Custodia, collection Frits Lugt, Paris; Musée du Louvre, Collection Rothschild, Paris; Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie; Kulturhistorisk Museum – De Bulske Stuer, Randers; Museum Boijmsans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Fine Arts Museumf of San Francisco; The Stte Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; St. Louis Art Museum; Staatsgalerie Stuttgart; Musée Jenisch, Vevey; Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna; Muzeum Narodowe Warszawie, Warsaw; The National Gallery of Art, Washingtom; Library of Congress, Washington; Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Zurich.

Bartsch 29; Hind 286; Biorklund-Barnard 56-B; Usticke 29; New Hollstein 295.
Hans-Martin Rotermund, Rembrandt’s Drawings and Etchings for the Bible, Pilgrim Press, Philadelphia & Boston, 1969, no. 14 (ill.);
Victoria Charles, Rembrandt the Engraver, Parkstone Press, 1997, p. 188 (ill.);
Christopher White, Rembrandt as an Etcher; A Study of the Artist at Work, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1999, no, 131, p. 106 (ill.);
Michael Zell, Reframing Rembrandt: Jews and the Christian Image in Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam, University of California Press, Berkeley/Los Angeles/London, 2002, fig. 106, p. 177 (ill.);
Gary Schwartz, The Rembrandt Book, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 2006, no. 57, p. 37 (ill.);
Erik Hinterding, Rembrandt Etchings from the Frits Lugt Collection, Thoth Publishers, Bussum, 2008, no. 19, vol. II p. 23 (ill.)

About Rembrandt van Rijn

A prolific painter, draftsman, and etcher, Rembrandt van Rijn is considered the greatest artist of Holland's Golden Age. He worked from direct observation, and despite the evolution of his style over the course of his career, Rembrandt’s compelling descriptions of light, space, atmosphere, modeling, texture, and human affect are the result of intense perceptual study. A prominent portraitist, Rembrandt is most famous for The Night Watch (1642), a monumental painting of militia guards that features Rembrandt’s distinctive use of chiaroscuro.

Dutch, 1606-1669, Leiden, Netherlands, based in Amsterdam and Leiden, Holland