This dreamlike painting shows Jacob’s encounter with an angel on his journey home to Canaan. Jacob had sent his family and servants ahead to meet his twin brother Esau, along with his best livestock to be given as a peace offering. Left alone in the night, Jacob met a stranger and wrestled him until dawn. The angel, realizing he could not prevail, put Jacob’s hip out of joint and implored, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” Jacob refused without a blessing. The angel asked Jacob his name and said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with human beings and have prevailed.” Then the angel blessed Jacob. Cristoforo Roncalli depicted the angel restraining Jacob in an embrace that is almost tender. The artist favored energetic, bold forms and dramatic contrasts of light and shade. Here he highlighted the angel against Jacob’s darker silhouette, illuminating the pale flesh, yellow drapery, and iridescent wings with strong light. Note that this contrast has intensified over time because many green and brown pigments tend to darken with age while lead white paint remains stable. The picture was likely commissioned by Pope Urban VIII Barberini when he was a cardinal. Upon his election to the papacy in 1623, his art collection passed to his family. This work remained with descendants of the Barberini through the 21st century.


This image is in the public domain.

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