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Johann Heinrich Ferdinand Olivier, Abraham and Isaac

Key facts
Full title Abraham and Isaac
Artist Johann Heinrich Ferdinand Olivier
Artist dates 1785 - 1841
Date made 1817
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 21.5 × 30.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Presented by Bruno Meissner, 1992
Inventory number NG6541
Location Room 45
Collection Main Collection
Abraham and Isaac
Johann Heinrich Ferdinand Olivier

According to the Old Testament, God instructed Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham’s only son by his wife Sarah, as a test of his faith and obedience (Genesis 22: 1–19). Abraham and Isaac make their way to the place of sacrifice. Isaac carries a bundle of wood for the altar fire on his back, while his father holds a lighted torch and a knife.

The style of the painting is deliberately old fashioned, with precise outlines and odd disparities in scale, while the figures of Abraham and Isaac recall the simplified forms of a medieval woodcut. The landscape background is drawn with meticulous care and is loosely based on Olivier’s studies of the countryside around Salzburg, which he first visited in 1815.

In 1817 Olivier became a member of an artistic brotherhood later known as the Nazarenes, sharing their enthusiasm for northern medieval and early Renaissance art and their interest in the revival of religious painting.

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