PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION
The present canvases depict two episodes from the Old Testament: Abraham is received in triumph by the High Priest Melchizedek (Genesis 14: 18–24), and in the companion, the Israelites are shown gathering the miraculous fall of manna that relieved them form starvation in the wilderness (Exodus 14:19–31). The original configuration of the two paintings is unclear, but it seems that rather than being independent works by father and son, they were jointly worked on by both.
William Beckford was a compulsive but consummate collector, as well as a patron and scholar of the arts. Orphaned when only nine years old, he inherited a fabulous fortune from his family's Jamaican plantations. His magnificent collection, eclectic and at times theatrical in taste, but including works of the very highest quality, was housed latterly at Fonthill Abbey, the great Gothic extravagance (since destroyed) built for him by James Wyatt between 1797 and 1812. Beckford preferred Italian art to that of the North, and these two paintings by Jacopo and Francesco Bassano typify his taste for Venetian paintings, particularly those of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. These included Giovanni Bellini's Agony in the garden and Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan and Cima da Conegliano's Saint Jerome, all now in the National Gallery in London, and Bellini's Giovanni Mocenigo now in the Frick Collection in New York. These hung alongside celebrated works by Van der Weyden, Gerrit Dou, Filippino Lippi, Perugino and Velázquez, and three Claudes, including the famous 'Altieri' Claudes now at Anglesey Abbey. The present works were scheduled to be included in the sale of the contents of Fonthill between the 8 and 18 October 1822, as lots 66 and 67, to be conducted by Christie's on the premises, but postponed by the sale of the Abbey and many of its possessions to John Farqar (1751–1826). The collection was later sold at Phillips in 1823 (by then no longer including these two pictures), and Beckford retired in reduced circumstances (but with many of his most treasured possessions) to Bath.
1 See A. Ballarin, Jacopo Bassano. Scritti 1964-1995, Padua 1995, vol. I, reproduced in colour fig. 112.
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