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Hagar and Ishmael

Hagar and Ishmael


Veronese school

c. 1600-20

Oil on slate

62.2 x 43.4 cm, 80.7 x 62.1 cm (frame)

Provenance: Royal House of Hanover, Hildesheim Sale, Sotheby’s at Marienberg Castle, 5-15 October 2005; private collection, London.

High res images available on request.

Due to the heavy slate medium, this painting is only available for UK delivery. 

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This is a lovely example of the unusual medium of oil on slate, typical of the Verona school around 1600 and showing the influence of Paolo Veronese. The artist has used the dark slate to create a chiaroscuro that dramatizes the moment in which the angel appears to Hagar in her desperation, saving the life of her infant son.


The story of Hagar and Ishmael is recounted in the Bible, in the book of Genesis (21: 9-21). Abraham’s wife Sarah, who had been unable to conceive, unexpectedly bore a son in her old age, naming him Isaac. Jealous of Abraham’s son Ishmael by his concubine Hagar, she asked Abraham to cast them out. Abraham gave Hagar some bread and a bottle of water, and they were sent into the wilderness. The water ran out, and in her desperation Hagar abandoned Ishmael under a bush and sat down to watch him die. God heard Ishmael’s cries of distress, and sent an angel, who said to Hagar, “Fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.” Hagar saw a well, from which she filled her bottle with water for Ishmael to drink, and they were saved, making a new life for themselves in the wilderness.


Although Hagar and Ishmael play no further part in the Christian tradition, Ishmael is commonly regarded by the Jewish and Islamic traditions as the progenitor of the Arabs, the "great nation" that God had promised. In the Qu’ran he is considered a prophet, and it is suggested that he settled in Mecca and assisted Abraham in building the sacred structure of the Kaaba (2:127).


Hagar and Ishmael was a popular subject among seventeenth century Italian and Netherlandish artists, and the subject was painted by Salvator Rosa, Claude Lorrain, Guercino, Lorenzo Lippi and Peter Paul Rubens, among others. The most direct inspiration for our painting, however, appears to be the Hagar and Ishmael painted in 1585 by Paolo Veronese and his workshop (Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna). Although it is a work on canvas rather than slate, they share strong compositional similarities, in particular the diagonal composition in which the eye tracks from top right to bottom left, from the angel, to Hagar, to Ishmael. Our artist has emphasised this visual progress even further, through the angel’s outstretched arm that points to Hagar, who in turn points to Ishmael.


Both Veronese’s canvas and our oil on slate take place in a similar wooded landscape against a dark sky. Veronese’s painting was executed late in his career, when he had abandoned his characteristic light palette to experiment with chiaroscuro and nocturnal light. The painting was in the collection of the Duc D’Arshot in France in c. 1613 but would have been seen by other artists working in Verona prior to its sale. The dark sky translates perfectly to the slate medium. Although the slate is covered by a layer of grey paint, it is left as a void, to emphasise the nature of the medium and create an atmosphere of foreboding. The bright palette in which the angel is painted creates a striking visual contrast against the dark background, reproducing the moment of relief and revelation in the story. Judith Mann, curator of the exhibition ‘Paintings on Stone’ (St Louis Art Museum, MI, Feb-May 2022) emphasised how artists were adept at harnessing the physical properties of stone to create symbolic meaning.


Oil painting on slate enjoyed a period of popularity in Verona in the decades after 1580, when a slate quarry was opened up near the city. The medium had been developed by Sebastiano del Piombo earlier in the seventeenth century, and taken up by other artists in Rome before spreading to Verona and other areas of Italy. Slate offered a smooth and durable surface on which to achieve a high level of finish, and it is notable that our painting is in a remarkably good and stable state of preservation. Although it has previously been broken and expertly repaired, the paint surface itself is largely intact. In the ongoing debates in Renaissance Italy between the relative merits of painting and sculpture, painting on stone offered the best of both – the colour and versatility of painting, with the durability and eternal quality of stone. Small works on slate, such as this one, were principally produced for collectors and for private devotional use.


There were a number of artists painting on stone in Verona in the years around 1600, who may be responsible for our painting. They included Marcantonio Bassetti, Alessandro Turchi and Pasquale Ottino, all of who trained under Felice Brusasorci, or it may be a late work by Brusasorci himself. Another possible candidate is Jacopo Ligozzi, who left his native Verona around 1576 for Florence, where he was employed at the Tuscan court. He visited Verona in 1591-2, painted several works on slate, and was much influenced by Veronese.

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