Teniers the Younger and Sacrifice

by Matthew Raley

"Abraham's Sacrifice of Isaac," David Teniers the Younger, 1654-56, Art Institute of Chicago
"Abraham's Sacrifice of Isaac," David Teniers the Younger, 1654-56, Art Institute of Chicago

This painting is about where the faces are pointed, and about evoking the key elements of a story to make a spiritual impact.

The fire is ready to receive the boy Isaac’s body. His father Abraham has take the swing back with his arm that will end his son’s life. But someone outside our frame of vision catches his sword, and Abraham’s face jerks back and up to see.

Isaac’s face, while he waits for the final blow to fall, is set on a ram caught in a bush immediately below him. He seems to be contemplating this ram in serenity, as if he understands the animal’s significance for him as a substitute sacrifice.

The painting is a dramatic evocation of the words Abraham told Isaac: “The Lord will provide.” And it demonstrates how biblical art can be edifying without the deadness of sentimentality.

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