Rembrandt van Rijn, The Sacrifice of Isaac, 1635. Oil on canvas, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.
The great Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) painted The Sacrifice of Isaac as a young man—he was just 29 years old—in the same year that his first son was born and died, giving this work special poignancy. Rembrandt achieved early success, especially as a portrait painter, and enjoyed artistic fame throughout his lifetime. Here Rembrandt captures the dramatic moment when Abraham is about to carry out the order from God to sacrifice his son Isaac. The angel descends from above and seizes Abraham’s wrist as he is about to deliver the death blow. The knife, suspended in midair, falls to the ground. Notice how the ethereal light emanating from the angel illuminates both Abraham’s face and Isaac’s body.