The story of Abraham at Sichem is told in the Old Testament (Genesis 12:7). Abraham, patriarch of the Israelites, was ordered by God to leave his home in Ur and set off for a new land where he would be the founder of a great nation. Abraham obeyed, taking his family, his flocks and all his possessions into the land of Canaan. When he reached the holy place of Sichem, on the plain of Moreh, God spoke a second time to Abraham, proclaiming “To your offspring I will give this land.” It is this moment of God’s second appearance to Abraham that Potter has depicted. Abraham kneels, looking heavenward to God’s manifestation, represented by rays of light, while the other figures at left, including his wife Sara and nephew Lot, stare out in an almost trance-like state. Even at this early stage of Potter’s career, the animals, including cows, goats, and donkeys, are carefully portrayed, and imbued with great dignity and personality. Potter would go on to become the greatest animal painter of his age, making them the main focus of many of his paintings and elevating the animal piece to a new level of importance in Dutch art.
The young Potter was influenced by an older generation of painters such as Pieter Lastman and Claes Moeyeart, both of whom painted earlier renditions of this same subject.2 Moeyaert is thought to have been one of Potter’s teachers and his influence is evident in this work, especially in the treatment of the livestock. Moeyaeart‘s 1628 painting of Abraham at Sichem, while a far more crowded composition, also places the animals prominently in the center foreground (fig. 1). Potter has reduced the number of principal figures, placing them at far left and opening up the right side of the composition to depict a vast landscape filled with a procession of Abraham’s followers. The landscape design and some of the details, such as the ruined tower and wooden bridge, appear to be borrowed from an etching by Moyses van Wtenbrouck (fig. 2).
The faces of the figures at far right surrounding Abraham are highly individualized and are probably real portraits.3 Potter may have used the story of Abraham at Sichem to create a portrait historié, placing his subjects as participants in a biblical event.4 It has even been suggested that the figure of a young man standing behind Abraham may, in fact, be a self-portrait.
1. See A. Chong and P.C. Sutton, in Masters of 17th-Century Dutch Landscape Painting, Philadelphia 1987, p. 416.
2. See A. Walsh/E. Buijsen/B. Broos (under Literature) p. 56.
3. Both C. Hofstede de Groot and A. Walsh/E. Buijsen/B. Broos (under Literature) suggest that the figures may have been painted by Potter’s father, Pieter.
4. See A. Walsh/E. Buijsen/B. Broos and I.A. Cartwright (under Literature), p. 58 and p. 87, respectively.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale