Pieter Pietersz. Lastman
- Pieter Pietersz. Lastman
- Sacrifice of Manoah
- signed and dated on the head of the axe lower left: P. Lastman 1624
- oil on panel
- 28 3/8 x 20 7/8 inches
Private collection, Bolsward , by 1991;
Anonymous sale, Amsterdam, Sotheby's, 14 November 1995, lot 67;
There purchased by the present collector.
A. Tümpel, The Pre-Rembrandtists, exhibition catalogue, Sacramento 1974, p. 20, reproduced p. 22, fig. no. 15;
A. Tümpel and P. Schatborn, Lastman, the man who taught Rembrandt, exhibition catalogue, Amsterdam 1991, pp. 120-121, cat. no. 18, reproduced p. 121, p. 128, under cat. no. 21;
M. Sitt, Pieter Lastman In Rembrandts Schatten?, exhibition catalogue, Hamburg 2006, p. 66, under cat. no. 13.
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This signed and dated work by Pieter Lastman is a rather rare, mature composition by the artist. Lastman is best known today as Rembrandt's teacher, and although for centuries his name was eclipsed by his more famous pupil, he is now recognized as a dynamic and important artist in his own right, and one without whose teaching Rembrandt might have followed an entirely different course.1 Rembrandt studied in the studio of Pieter Lastman in Leiden in 1624, the same year in which the present composition was painted, and although he was only there for six months, Lastman's impact on the younger artist was profound.
Lastman favored the depiction of somewhat rare and obscure Old Testament biblical narratives that often had never been painted before and were only known through drawings or engravings. The present work is just such a painting and it deals with a favorite theme of Lastman's: the confrontation between man and God. The episode depicted here is the Sacrifice of Manoah (Judges 13:1-23). The bible tells of how Manoah, the Danite, and his barren wife prayed to God for a child. An angel later appeared to Manoah's wife and told her that she would give birth to a son who would free Israel from the occupying Philistines. When she recounted this to Manoah he prayed for the angel to appear to him too and share this prophecy. His prayers were answered and the angel returned. The angel asked Manoah to sacrifice a goat, and just as the sacrifice was engulfed in flames the angel was bourne up to heaven in the fire. The bible narrates how Manoah fell to the ground in astonishment at the miracle and his wife went on to give birth to Samson who, true to the prophecy, rescued Israel from the Philistines.
Lastman chooses to depict the point at which the angel ascends to Heaven in the flames of the sacrifice. It is the most dramatic moment of the narrative. Manoah wears a vibrant red robe and the detailed embroidery on his undershirt is beautifully painted. He has fallen half to his knees and gazes up in astonishment, hands outstretched, at the departing angel. The angel rises to the heavens in a swirl of billowing robes, while Manoah's wife looks on in awe, almost hidden in the background. Lastman has paid careful attention to the details of the biblical account, in which the wife is very much a subsidiary figure and not even named. For the depiction of her head he drew inspiration from the head of a woman in an earlier composition of 1617, Christ and the Woman of Canaan.2
For seventeenth century Christians, Samson was often seen as a precursor to Christ, and Lastman alluded to these theological implications by including the peacock in the lower left. The peacock was frequently used as a symbol of immortality and the Resurrection on account of an ancient belief that its flesh did not rot. This is presumably what was also intended by Lastman when he painted a sculpted relief of Moses and the Brazen Serpent on the sacrificial pyre.3 The inclusion of a gilt plate and ewer lower left is also typical of the artist, who liked to include richly decorated, ornate objects to show off his ability to handle paint. Lastman also incorporated additional details of the narrative, such as the axe and skinned goat to further enrich the composition.
Lastman often returned to the same subjects and painted them a number of times from a variety of different angles -- a tendency familiar as well in his pupil Rembrandt's oeuvre. At least one other version of the Sacrifice of Manoah by Lastman is known: a 1627 composition currently on loan to the Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam.4
1. The 1991 Pieter Lastman exhibition in Amsterdam was subtitled "leermeester van Rembrandt", A. Tümpel and P. Schatborn, Pieter Lastman: The Man Who Taught Rembrandt, exhib. cat., Amsterdam 1991.
2. See Tümpel, ibid., pp. 104-4, cat. no. 10, reproduced.
3. Tümpel, ibid., p. 120 argues that Lastman was referring to the following verses from John 3:14-15 "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."
4. See Tümpel, ibid., pp. 128-9, cat. no. 21, reproduced.