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Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, The Sacrifice of Isaac

Key facts
Full title The Sacrifice of Isaac
Artist Giovanni Battista Piazzetta
Artist dates 1683 - 1754
Date made probably after 1735
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 201.2 × 133.4 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by Sir Robert Witt through the Art Fund, 1917
Inventory number NG3163
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Sacrifice of Isaac
Giovanni Battista Piazzetta

This dramatic scene is inspired by a well-known episode in the Book of Genesis, when God tests Abraham’s faith by ordering him to sacrifice Isaac, his only son. In Piazzetta’s painting Abraham picks up a knife, just visible in his clenched hand, and stares wide-eyed towards heaven as if steeling himself to accept God’s command. An angel rushes towards Abraham, placing a hand on his shoulder in an attempt to stop him carrying out this act. Isaac is placed beneath them, his body limp as he cowers in fear.

Painted in around 1735, this picture was probably intended as an altarpiece but was left unfinished. The only completed area is Abraham’s head, which is damaged, although his red coat and the archangel’s yellow vestment, feathery wings and torso are faintly painted in. A considerable amount of overpaint was added by Roger Fry, the English painter and art critic, while the picture was in his collection at the turn of the twentieth century.

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