Pharaoh Returns Sarah to Abraham

Isaac Isaacsz, Pharaoh Returns Sarah to Abraham (Abimelech, King of Gerar, Restores Sarah to Abraham), 1640. Oil on canvas, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Isaac Isaacsz was the son of Pieter Isaacsz, the Dutch court painter for King Christian IV of Denmark. His family traveled in international circles, and his father is thought to have spied for the Swedes while serving the Danish king. Isaac studied with his father in Denmark and continued his studies in Italy. This piece has a Rembrandt-like flavor; perhaps Isaacsz was influenced by Rembrandt’s David with the Head of Goliath before Saul, painted in 1627.

Here, a resplendent and rather non-Egyptian-looking Pharaoh chastises Abraham. Abraham’s deception has put both Pharaoh’s and Sarah’s lives at risk. Abraham bends down to meet Sarah’s eyes, holding her hand almost as a father would a child. Is he patronizing her, or humbly asking for forgiveness?

Isaac Isaacsz, Pharaoh Returns Sarah to Abraham (Abimelech, King of Gerar, Restores Sarah to Abraham), 1640. Oil on canvas, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

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