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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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Jacob Wrestling with the Angel is a religious scene used as inspiration by many artist, not just Rembrandt van Rijn, although his depiction is certainly the most famous

This story crosses several religious boundaries, being explained by Christianity, Islam and also Judaism. The artists to have taken on this topic include Eugene Delacroix, Alexander Louis Leloir, Gustave Moreau and Paul Gauguin. The precise narrative can be found in an episode from Genesis 32:22-32 and includes the renaming of Jacob as Israel.

Each of the versions mentioned above, including Rembrandt's, put the angel in very much the dominant position, seemingly larger and stronger than Jacob who appears to be struggling to match her strength. This painting can be found at the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin which is a highly respected institution which spearheads a city famous for its artistic contributions, particularly within the 20th and 21st centuries.

There is a general agreement amongst Rembrandt researchers that this painting was cropped at some point in its life cycle, which can be said about several of his paintings. Elements of the bottom right of the canvas are believed to have been taken from another region that was cropped out and then added here.

The story behind this scene is that Jacob is seeking to make up with his brother, Esau. He sends his servants ahead with gifts, hoping to calm the waters before he visits himself.