Balaam and the Ass Rembrandt Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Balaam and the Ass represents the early style used by Rembrandt van Rijn before he perfected his use of lighting which was to become his trademark

Balaam and the Ass and The Baptism of the Eunuch arrived in the same year and have undeniable similarities in the way in which Rembrandt completed figurative detail and gradiented clothing. Many new to the work of Rembrandt would not consider this to be part of his oeuvre, but this was simply an artist developing his career and fighting to find his prefered style.

The early years of Rembrandt as an artist were spent in Leiden and it was perhaps during this period that he lacked enough influences from other artists to develop his own path as an artist. This would change in Amsterdam. This particular scene portrays the biblical story of a talking ass arguing with Balaam. This diviner in the Torah would be captured by many other artists too.

This scene captures the arrival of the Israelites in the Jordan valley. In fear of an imminent attack, Balak, King of Moab, would order Balaam to place a curse on them. The biblical story (22:1-35) tells of the ass becoming able to speak and Balaam then being able to see an angel drawing her sword. This conversion would touch on the appearance of Christ to Thomas and is yet another entry of religion into the work of Renaissance and Baroque artists.

Balaam and the Ass can be found in the Musée Cognacq-Jay, Paris which also holds work by the likes of François Boucher, Canaletto, Jean-Siméon Chardin, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Jean-Antoine Watteau, Camille Corot, Paul Cézanne and Edgar Degas. The fact that it remains in an impressive, but smaller art institution underlines its relative prominence within Rembrandt's overall output.