The elderly patriarch Isaac is seated on a bed to the right, giving his blessing to his youngest son Jacob while his mother, Rebecca contemplates the occurrence from the left. The scene unfolds in a dark interior. A plate of roasted meat is served on a table. The background is comprised on the right by a hanging cloth that delimits the space, while on the left a landscape at dusk can be seen, with a building similar to a turret in the distance.
This work illustrates an episode from Genesis (27:1-29) where Isaac, the patriarch, manifests the desire to bless his son Esau before he dies; he sends him out to hunt, with instructions to serve his catch on a plate upon his return. Aware of his intentions, Isaac’s wife Rebecca conceives of a plan in which her favorite son, Jacob, presents himself before his father with a plate of roasted meat in Esau’s absence. Using a piece of goatskin on his arm in order to better simulate his hirsute brother, Jacob obtains his father’s blessing in his brother’s place.
According to A. Pérez Sánchez, this piece would have been done by Giordano as a young man, elaborated on the basis of the canvas Isaac y Jacob (Isaac and Jacob, Museo del Prado, Madrid) painted by his maestro José de Ribera in 1637. While Giordano maintains the same arrangement of figures employed by Ribera as well as the resolution of space in a very close foreground, the work’s dramatic tension has been intensified. The psychological relationship between the characters is established by way of a compact grouping that defines two curved lines in opposition, formed by the inclined bodies of Rebecca and Isaac, with the young Jacob positioned between them. Another factor that increases the scene’s dramatic charge is the direction of their gazes; while Isaac blesses Jacob with his head bowed, he and his mother look intensely at Isaac’s eyes, full of expectation, with the risk of their ruse being discovered. Lastly, another device that links Giordano’s work with that of Ribera is the particular use of lighting focused on areas that are significant thematic points: light acquires symbolic meaning by concentrating on the elderly patriarch’s face and torso, while the faces of his scheming family members remain partly in shadow. Rebecca’s arms, pushing Jacob forward, and his arm, covered in the animal skin that symbolizes their deceit, are also intensely illuminated amid their somber surroundings. The predominantly warm palette and the realistic elaboration of anatomical features are characteristics that the author assimilates from his maestro in addition to the post-Caravaggio trend in Naples at that time.
Giordano represents this theme on several occasions. It is interesting to compare our work with another that is very similar in its configuration, Bendición de Jacob (The Blessing of Jacob, Palacio Real de la Granja de San Ildefonso, Segovia), in which the figures are arranged very much along the same lines; nevertheless, the most telling difference that allows us to comprehend the author’s direction is his development of the same theme but in a more brightly lit scenario, as opposed to the intense contrasts between light and shadow found in his juvenile works such as the Buenos Aires piece. Other versions exist in private collections in Madrid and Rome (1), resolved in a manner similar to the work in Segovia and therefore to ours as well. The existence of several versions fits in with the practices typical of that era, during which, as Nicola Spinosa explains, it was not uncommon for replicas to be made upon patrons’ request (2).Ángel M. Navarro - Alejo Lo Russo
1— The Sacrifice of Isaac, oil on canvas, 45 x 75 cm, private collection, Madrid. The Sacrifice of Isaac, oil on canvas, 138 x 221 cm, private collection, Rome.
2— Nicola Spinosa and Alfonso E. Pérez Sánchez, Luca Giordano. La imagen como ilusión. Naples, Electa, 2004, p. 120.
1992. FERRARI, Oreste y Giuseppe Scavizzi, Luca Giordano. L’opera completa. Napoli, Electa, p. 342.
2002. PÉREZ SÁNCHEZ, Alfonso E. (responsable científico), Luca Giordano y España, cat. exp. Madrid, Patrimonio Nacional, p. 222.