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Guercino, 'The Angel appears to Hagar and Ishmael', 1652-3

Key facts
Full title The Angel appears to Hagar and Ishmael
Artist Guercino
Artist dates 1591 - 1666
Date made 1652-3
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 193 × 229 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by the Trustees of Sir Denis Mahon's Charitable Trust through the Art Fund, 2013
Inventory number NG6623
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Angel appears to Hagar and Ishmael

The story of Hagar and Ishmael is told in the Old Testament Book of Genesis. Unable to have a child with his wife, Sara, Abraham has a son called Ishmael by her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar. When the aged Sara miraculously conceives and gives birth to Isaac, she demands that Hagar and Ishmael are banished to the wilderness, where they are left to die.

In this painting, Hagar turns from her son so she does not have to watch him die. As she weeps, an angel appears to her and reveals a water source nearby – visible in the bottom left corner of the painting – saving their lives. Hagar’s anguish is the focus of the painting. She is seated in the centre of the composition, poised and dignified, and her gleaming tears convey her intense sorrow.

Probably painted in the second half of 1652, this picture is an example of Guercino’s late classicising style, greatly influenced by Guido Reni.

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