between 1700 and 1710
Boxwood with transparent coating
Height 43.8 and 46.5 cm
Jacob, son of Isaac and brother of Esau, wrestled with an angel all through one night on the bank of the Jabbok. Neither won, and the struggle ended after Jacob insisted: “I will not let thee go, unless thou bless me.” The Biblical text speaks of a fight with a man, but in the visual arts he is always represented as an angel.
Muscular bodies, expressive movements, flying hair, wildly swirling garments and the angel’s spread wings convey the drama and the dynamism of the fight and induce the viewer to look at the work from every side. Jacob is somewhat weaker than his celestial opponent: the man’s muscles visibly bulge with the effort of the fight, while the surface of the angel’s body is smooth and softly modelled. Jacob is moreover being so hard pressed by the angel that one of his feet has stepped off the base and is only supported by a specially added bracket.
The group that acts as a pendant to this one, “Abraham’s Sacrifice”, is likewise executed in the round and in an equally theatrical manner. It shows Abraham at the moment when he draws back the knife in order to kill his son Isaac, who is kneeling, bound, beside his father, waiting for the fatal thrust. Behind the group lies the ram that will be sacrificed in Isaac’s place.
These works are attributed to the Italian Baroque sculptor Andrea Brustolon, who worked in Venice for many years. He is known mainly for complex pieces of furniture and figures, which are striking on account of their lavish profusion of decorative elements, rendered in great detail. The superbly executed works of his in the Liebieghaus were no doubt originally part of the furnishings of a room.