Arent de Gelder 1645 – 1727

God and the Angels visit Abraham

oil on canvas (111 × 174 cm) — c. 1680 - 1685 Museum Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Arent de Gelder biography

This work is linked to Genesis 18:10

Tags: Abraham | God

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Three men visit Abraham who receives them with great hospitality. One of the men predicts that Abraham and his wife Sarah will give birth to a son within one year - despite their age.

The three visitors are usually depicted as angels or simply as men, as described in Genesis 18. De Gelder must have read the translator's notes in the Dutch authorized version of 1637, where it is claimed that the three men were in fact two angels and God himself, appearing as humans for the occasion. De Gelder's teacher Rembrandt made an etching in 1656 where he too depicts one of the men as an elderly, bearded man.

Showing God as a man was very rare in the arts and not undisputed. In the catholic interpretation of Genesis 18, the three men are symbols of the Holy Trinity and should therefore be depicted in a mutually similar manner. In the northern Netherlands the dominant religion since the 1560's was calvinism, which prohibited depicting God as a man all the way. It was seen as breaking the second commandment.

De Gelder shows the group seated around a table. In Genesis the episode takes place outside Abraham's tent, and the group was probably sitting on the ground.

The old man's robe is not really painted. De Gelder applied a thick layer of paint with a palette knife and then carved lines into the paint. The two tassels are actually carved paint ridges. Such techniques are referred to as impasto.

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