The painting is a generalised Arcadian scene. Its only connection with the biblical story of Isaac and Rebecca is Claude's inscription on the tree stump in the centre of the picture. Another version of this painting without the inscription is called 'The Mill' (now in the 'Palazzo Doria Pamphilij' in Rome).
The Duc de Bouillon, general of the Papal army, commissioned Claude to paint both this painting and the 'Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba' in 1647 and they were completed the following year.
The pictures complement each other, showing joyful and fulfilling occasions taken from Old Testament stories. Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba is a port scene and the Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca takes place inland.
Claude's use of trees to frame the action is typical of his work, as is his giving the composition an overall balance.
Both this painting and its pair were among the pictures owned by the Gallery when it first opened in 1824. The painting was purchased from the Angerstein collection.
Miranda Hinkley: In the artist’s 'Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca', the joyful wedding celebrations of the Biblical patriarch take place beneath a blue sky full of fluffy white clouds. The work is a favourite of Director Nick Penny, and when he discovered a former meteorologist among the trustees of the National Gallery Trust, he asked Catherine Stevenson to take a closer look.
Nicholas Penny: Catherine, we’re now looking at the very, very famous painting by Claude Lorraine – its nickname in the Gallery is 'The Mill'. People always associated Claude... the first thing they thought about him in the 17th century – and he was an enormously admired artist – was that he painted the sky as it had never been painted before, and I think that that’s probably true.
Catherine Stevenson: Well, certainly this sky is extremely realistic. Here the sun is quite well up in the sky. You can tell because of the illumination on the side of the cumulous clouds at the top of the picture, and this he’s picked up beautifully. Also, his structure of the clouds... there’s a layer of stratus in the middle, which is terribly realistic.
Nicholas Penny: Those are the streaky…
Catherine Stevenson: The streaky, rather flat clouds, but not only has he got those, it looks almost as though he’s got some clouds rising up on his mountains. Well, those are again, as you very often do… air rises.. I can see that happening. And the mist he’s got in the valleys, this side of the far hill…
From The National Gallery Podcast: Episode Forty, February 2010