God tells Abraham to leave Haran and go to Canaan. He obeys, travelling with his whole household and goods (Genesis 12:1).
The towers and walls of Canaan are just visible in the distance as God appears to the elderly Abraham in a burst of golden light. The young man in the turban beside Abraham is his nephew, Lot. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, rides on a horse. The dawn light suggests the urgency of their departure from Haran, the gate of which appears on the right.
Jacopo Bassano’s sons Francesco and Leandro were both painters and often worked with their father or copied his work. Francesco is thought to have made many copies of The Departure of Abraham. This painting may be by an artist in Jacopo’s workshop or an imitator of his style.
The Bassano family of painters were particularly known for biblical scenes including ordinary people with their animals and household goods. Similar livestock and objects are included in Jacopo Bassano’s Purification of the Temple, also in the National Gallery.
As the first glimmers of dawn rise beyond the dark hill on the horizon, Abraham obeys God’s command to take his household and leave their home in Haran. The towers and walls of Canaan, where the family is headed, are just visible in the distance. The story comes from the Old Testament Book of Genesis (12:1).
God appears to the elderly Abraham in a burst of light in the overcast sky. Abraham turns to hear God’s word, which comes to him as a golden ray. We see Abraham’s family and his horned goats, sheep, spaniel, donkeys and a beautifully observed still life of his brass and copper pots and pans. Abraham’s nephew, Lot, stands beside him and his wife, Sarah, follows riding on a white horse. A young woman holds a baby up to Sarah, though it cannot be hers: Sarah’s only child, Isaac, was born much later. The dawn light suggests the urgency of the household’s departure from Haran, the gate of which appears as a stone arch on the right.
Jacopo Bassano first depicted the Departure of Abraham around 1570. The first version of the composition seen here is in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, and bears an inscription saying it is the work of both Jacopo Bassano and his son Francesco. Jacopo Bassano’s sons Francesco and Leandro were both painters and often worked jointly with their father or copied his work, so it can be difficult to establish which of them created which painting. Francesco is thought to have made many copies of The Departure of Abraham. Assistants in the Bassano workshop would have painted less important parts of the larger paintings, made copies, and made up the paints. The National Gallery’s painting may be by an artist or assistant in Jacopo’s workshop or by an imitator of Jacopo’s style.
The Bassano family of painters were particularly known for painting biblical scenes including animals and ordinary-looking people with their household goods. Livestock, birds, baskets, brass pans and a similar dog are also included in Jacopo Bassano’s The Purification of the Temple.
The Departure of Abraham used to hang with another painting attributed to Jacopo Bassano, The Return of the Prodigal Son, and they may have been painted as a pair, with related subjects and compositions. The Return of the Prodigal Son was sold by the National Gallery in 1857.
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