Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. (Genesis 32-24)

Utterly alone in the dead of night, Jacob is attacked by a mysterious assailant. Despite the fact that Scripture identifies Jacob’s antagonist simply as a man, Rembrandt follows centuries of biblical interpretation and depicts him as an angel. His portrayal of the angel is enthralling. The viewer immediately notes the contrast between the white of the angel’s tunic and the red of Jacob’s. Red is the symbol of Esau, and so it is likely that through color Rembrandt gives expression to Jacob’s compunctions; having stolen what is rightfully Esau’s. Yet the angel’s gentle, almost feminine facial expression of the angel, so full of compassion, has the viewer convinced that Jacob is embracing the angel rather than struggling with him. One is left pondering just what point in the biblical narrative the artist has captured.

Dr. Bryna Jocheved Levy

Photo courtesy of Gemaldeegalerie der Staatlichen Museen, Berlin.