Isaac Refusing to Bless Esau

WAG 1995.69


William Roscoe wrongly identified the subject of this drawing as the Old Testament patriarch Isaac blessing his second-born son Jacob. In fact it shows the rarely illustrated biblical scene (Genesis chapter 27 and verses 30-39) of the elderly and near-blind Isaac refusing to bless his eldest son, the huntsman Esau, because he has already been tricked into giving his blessing to his younger son Jacob, God's favoured one. Isaac refuses his blessing and condemns Esau to serving his younger brother. Rembrandt was especially interested in the story of Isaac and his two sons and appears to have set it as a composition topic for several of his studio pupils, who between them produced more than 24 paintings and drawings on the theme of Isaac and Jacob in the mid 1630s. Fewer artists painted or drew the confrontation between Isaac and Esau. Both Rembrandt and Jan Lievens, his friend, rival and collaborator in his early years in Leiden between 1625 and 1631, are thought to have painted the theme. This drawing is a copy of a presently unlocated pen and ink drawing attributed in 1951 to Rembrandt or one of his pupils of about 1636, to which a dark ink wash has been added later. The practice of adding wash to 'complete' or 'enhance' pen and ink drawings was particulalry common in the Netherlands in the 17th and 18th century. An inscription in the lower left corner, which has been cut in half by the mount, includes the name 'Rembrant' spelt without a letter 'd' before the 't'. Roscoe acquired the drawing at the sale of his recently deceased brother-in-law, Daniel Daulby (1745/6-1798), a Liverpool brewer who amassed one of the largest collections of Rembrandt's drawings and prints in eighteenth-century England. With the help of Roscoe he prepared a catalogue of Rembrandt's prints and drawings, which was published in 1796 as the first detailed catalogue of the artist's graphic work to be published in Britain. In 1814 when Roscoe began to write a catalogue of his own art collection he bought tissue-paper, made by John Hayes, to cover and protect some of his drawings including WAG 1995.69.