Artwork of the Week: June 20, 2022
James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902), Issac Bears the Woods for His sacrifice, c. 1896-1901, gouache on board, 8 3/4 x 5 4/9 in, The Jewish Museum, New York. Image provided by the Jewish Museum, New York. Gift of the heirs of Jacob Schiff. This work has been temporarily loaned to the. Museum as part of the exhibition Prophets, Priests, and Queens: Tissot’s Men and Women of the Old Testament.
Withholding any explanation, Father Abraham silently despairs over the instruction of the Lord. He staggers forward in agony, pressing against his girdle and the hilt of a long blade, with the searing heat of small fire swinging below his right hand. Abraham is dizzy and disconsolate, sickened at the horrific task the Lord has assigned him–to offer his long-sought son as a sacrifice. Abraham will unquestioningly fulfill this inexplicable, torturous assignment.
His painfully young Isaac—at most seven-or eight-years-old–is fully compliant to his father’s charge to haul a great bundle of firewood to the site of a sacrificial ritual. Isaac has assisted in this role previously, but the undefined confusion in the air is disorienting. Little Isaac looks to us for any queue that would explain his father’s disquietude. He has never seen Abraham so bereft. The forthcoming intervention will change everything, but it is unseen or not understood at this agonizing moment.
While the colors of this landscape and the skies above are equally taupe and alkaline, the cumulous bright-white clouds suggest a deluge of pending relief– the incomparable intervention of the Lord. Another Son, many generations hence, will be offered instead, and on that day, there will be no ram in the thicket.