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Hagar and the Angel

Carel Fabritius (Middenbeemster 1622 – 1654 Delft)
date
ca. 1645
medium
oil on canvas
dimensions
157.5 x 136 cm
signed information

signed in brown paint, bottom left corner, “C P Fabritius”

inventory number
CF-100
Currently on view: The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

Surh, Dominique. “Hagar and the Angel.” In The Leiden Collection Catalogue. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. New York.

https://www.theleidencollection.com/archive/ (accessed September 23, 2018).

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Print

Carel Fabritius, who died tragically at the height of his career in the explosion of the Delft powder house in 1654, painted this masterpiece around 1645, shortly after he had completed his apprenticeship with Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–69). It is one of only five surviving history paintings from his hand (only 13 paintings by him are known) and his sole painting still in a private collection. Fabritius selected dramatic moments from the Bible and classical mythology, often unusual subjects that he treated in movingly human terms. Here, in this rare and wonderful example, we see this gifted painter and storyteller at his very best. He focuses the viewer’s attention on Hagar’s moment of suffering, while alluding to other moments in the broader narrative. With the compelling figure of the angel offering divine assistance at Hagar’s darkest hour, Fabritius invites the viewer to become fully engaged in the story.

Fabritius’s monumental depiction of a woman kneeling in prayer while being visited by an angel is a powerfully moving interpretation of the Old Testament story of Hagar and the angel. In this biblical narrative, which appears in Genesis 21:15–19, Hagar and her son Ishmael are expelled from Abraham’s house and wander in the wilderness for days. Having run out of water, Hagar can no longer bear the sight of her suffering son, so she leaves Ishmael under a bush and goes off to pray. She thinks to herself, “I cannot bear to watch Ishmael die,” and she begins to weep. Then an angel appears to her and says, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” God opens her eyes, and she sees a well to provide water for her dying son. She fills her empty flask with water and returns to the young boy to revive him.

This painting depicts the second of two biblical episodes in which Hagar is visited by an angel in the wilderness. In the first of these, the angel visits Hagar as she rests near the fountain of Shur after having fled into the wilderness as a young, pregnant woman (Gen. 16:6–14). The second episode, described above, occurs much later, when Hagar’s son Ishmael is thirteen years old (Gen 21:15–19). Scholars have traditionally identified the Leiden Collection painting as representing the earlier of Hagar’s two encounters with an angel, almost certainly because Ishmael is not present in the scene. Nevertheless, only in the later account does the presence of water become the dramatic fulcrum of the story: it leads to her salvation and, ultimately, the fulfillment of God’s promise. A factor that previously complicated the identification of the correct biblical passage was that, prior to the painting’s restoration in 2012, the water in the spring was obscured by layers of discolored varnish and not visible to the naked eye.

Fabritius’s nuanced interpretation of the story is consistent with the later biblical episode. The kneeling Hagar, with her robust stature, ruddy cheeks and weathered, middle-aged hands betraying her labor in the sun, is more evocative of a robust matriarch than of a pregnant youth. The shadows of her skirt are modeled with heavy impastos in tonalities of warm, bluish-gray, while the pale corals and blues of her striped shawl are depicted with assured, lively strokes. The artist draws the viewer’s eye to a red cloth sack and golden water flask wrapped in woven rope at the far right. Heightened by distinct brushstrokes loaded with thick paint, the water vessel is further accentuated by the technique of scratching into the wet paint with the butt of the brush to create added depth and texture. Tenderly, Hagar holds a thin, white handkerchief clasped between her folded fingers—a conventional gesture of prayer as well as one of despair. Resigned to her grief, she rests her mouth on her hands in a state of quiet surrender. Fabritius offers a measure of her sorrow with a single highlight at the base of her eye that conveys the hint of a falling tear.

For the majestic figure of the angel, Fabritius exploited the full range of his painterly techniques to achieve expressive effects. Rays of heavenly light surround the angel’s head in concentric bands of colors, while semitransparent streams of light emanate from his form, as though he were passing through the haze of heavy mist. His confident yet intuitive brushwork adds to the otherworldly character of the angel and conveys the sense of a divine apparition materializing into form. Fabritius’s modeling of the flesh tones with splotches of color in both areas of highlights and in the confines of form moving into shadow adds to the impression of a heavenly apparition emerging into being. With outstretched hands—one gently touching Hagar’s head and the other gesturing toward the well—the angel motions toward the source of Hagar’s salvation.

The story of Hagar was one of the most frequently portrayed Old Testament narratives in Dutch art, particularly by Rembrandt and his school, who were drawn to the subject for its expression of a wide array of human emotions. One important pictorial prototype for Fabritius’s conception of the story and its compositional organization was Rembrandt’s 1637 etching, Abraham Casting Out Hagar and Ishmael (). Before sending Hagar and Ishmael away, the Bible says that Abraham provided them with some bread and water for their journey. In this print, Hagar is depicted holding a handkerchief to her face while carrying a knapsack under her arm, a water bottle at her side, and a knife hanging from her belt. Fabritius adopted these motifs in his treatment of the later scene. His imposing angel also draws upon Rembrandt’s commanding figure of Abraham who, with his outstretched arms, similarly occupies a central position in the etching.

A work depicting the same biblical episode from Rembrandt’s workshop of the later 1650s shows the young Ishmael lying under a tree at the far left (). The scene bears striking compositional resemblance to the present work and portrays the angel as a towering figure at center with Hagar kneeling in the right foreground. Like the present example, Hagar is shown in profile holding a white handkerchief with a water bottle and knapsack beside her. However, unlike Fabritius’s rendition of the story, the artist includes the figure of Ishmael and illustrates the precise moment of Hagar’s epiphany of the angel, who is shown gesturing with his proper right arm to the boy lying in the landscape.

Ferdinand Bol (1616–80), Fabritius’s close contemporary and fellow student of Rembrandt, provides yet another example of the story in a painting from ca. 1650 now in Gdansk (). In a composition that resembles Fabritius’s prototype, Bol omits the figure of Ishmael but includes a prominent fountain at the center right. The angel’s frontal position and commanding gesture correspond with Fabritius’s heavenly figure, but the gesture of his right arm is disconnected from any element in the narrative. Bol has portrayed Hagar as she reacts to the angel’s presence. Her lowered head and downcast eyes suggest that she has not yet seen the water source, yet its portrayal as a running fountain directly beside her makes the logic of the narrative less compelling. For these reasons, scholars have been confounded by the iconography, unclear as to which of the two episodes Bol’s representation was meant to portray.

Before its acquisition by the Leiden Collection in 2011, Fabritius’s painting had been in the same private collection for over 250 years. It was first recorded in the Schönborn-Buchheim Collection inventory of 1746, at which time it was attributed to Rembrandt, an attribution that remained intact until the end of the nineteenth century. The painting was later attributed to Rembrandt’s pupils, both to Ferdinand Bol and Govaert Flinck (1615–60). In 1983, Werner Sumowski noted the stylistic similarities of the painting to a newly discovered work by Fabritius, Mercury and Argus from about 1645–47 in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and concluded that the two paintings were by the same hand.

Although Sumowski’s attribution of the painting to Fabritius did not initially receive unanimous acceptance, the painting was included in the Fabritius exhibition of 2004 in The Hague. Technical studies carried out at that time further demonstrated its close connection with other paintings by the artist. Canvas weave analysis revealed a striking similarity with the signed Raising of Lazarus from ca. 1643 in Warsaw, and indicated that the two canvases might have been cut from the same bolt. Final confirmation of the painting’s attribution occurred in 2005, when infrared light revealed Fabritius’s signature in the lower left, which the artist had applied while the undermodeling was still wet (). Based on these technical results, and on the close correspondence in style, color and brushwork of Hagar and the Angel with the painting in Warsaw, Frederik Duparc proposed a date of ca. 1645 for the painting.

In 2012, Michael Gallagher, head of conservation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, undertook a comprehensive conservation treatment of Hagar and the Angel. Previously, the work had only been selectively cleaned in isolated areas around the figures, while other areas in the landscape were obscured by discolored varnish. Widespread overpainting, particularly in the angel’s right wing, concealed the logic of the artist’s original form. An eighteenth-century print made after the Leiden Collection painting () indicates that Fabritius may have originally executed the area of shadow across the angel’s wing as a dark billowing cloud that may have been misunderstood in a later restoration, thereby obscuring his original intent. Perhaps the most serious aspect of the painting’s overall state prior to 2012 was its uneven surface condition caused by an earlier, unsuccessful wax relining. Together, these issues made it extremely difficult to assess the painting’s pictorial character.

The conservation treatment allowed the range and variety of Fabritius’s masterful handling of paint to be revealed once again. Significantly, the restoration brought to light Fabritius’s original signature. It also helped clarify a number of pictorial elements in the painting, including the presence of the well in the landscape which possesses such great significance for the painting’s iconography. The delicate reflections of light on the water’s surface were revealed only when the painting was restored in 2012. The water’s reemergence also helped clarify the meaning of the angel’s expressive gesture, which led the viewer’s eye to discover this delicately executed area of the landscape. Indeed, Fabritius intended the appearance of the well to be suggestive rather than obvious. By his nuanced portrayal and sensitivity to the narrative, Fabritius ensured that its recognition by the viewer would anticipate the awe and revelation of Hagar’s own discovery.

- Dominique Surh
2017
  • Possibly Pieter Six (his sale, Amsterdam, 2 September 1704, no. 57 [for 16 florins], as by Ferdinand Bol).
  • Schönborn-Buchheim Collection, Vienna, by 1746; [Galerie Nissl, Eschen, 2011].
  • From whom acquired by the present owner.
  • Salzburg, Residenzgalerie, 1956–2010, on loan with the permanent collection, 1956–2010 [lent by the Schönborn-Buchheim Collection, Vienna].
  • Munich, Haus der Kunst, “Barocke Sammellust. Die Sammlung Schönborn-Buchheim, Wien,” 7 February–11 May 2003 [lent by the Schönborn-Buchheim Collection, Vienna].
  • The Hague, Mauritshuis, “Carel Fabritius 1622–1654, Young Master Painter,” 24 September 2004–9 January 2005; Schwerin, National Museum, 28 January–16 May 2005, no. 2 [lent by the Schönborn-Buchheim Collection, Vienna].
  • New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, on loan with the permanent collection, May 2013–2016 [lent by the present owner].
  • Paris, Museé du Louvre, “Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection: The Age of Rembrandt,” 22 February–22 May 2017 [lent by the present owner].
  • Beijing, National Museum of China, “Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection,” 17 June–3 September 2017 [lent by the present owner].
  • Shanghai, Long Museum, West Bund, “Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection,” 23 September 2017–25 February 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, “The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection,” 28 March 2018–22 July 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum, “The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection,” 5 September 2018–13 January 2019 [lent by the present owner].
  • Beschreibung des fürtreflichen Gemähld-und Bilder-Schatzes, welcher in denen hochgräflichen Schlössern und Gebäuen deren Reiches-Grafen von Schönborn, Buchheim, Wolfsthal, etc. sowohl in dem Heil. Röm. Reich, als in dem Ertz-Hertzogthum Oesterreich zu ersehen und zu finden. Würzburg, 1746, no. 6, as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • Neues Archiv für Geschichte, Staatenkunde, Literatur und Kunst. 2 vols. Vienna, 1830, 2:167, as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • Smith, John. Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters. 9 vols. London 1829–42, 7:3, no. 6, as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • Nagler, Georg Kasper. Neues allgemeines Küstler-Lexikon oder Nachrichten von dem Leben und den Werken der Maler, Bildhauer, Baumeister, Kupferstecher, Formschneider, Lithographen, Zeichner, Medailleure, Elfenbeinarbeiter, etc. 22 vols. Munich, 1835–52, 12:425, as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • Perger, Anton Ritter von. Die Kunstschätze Wien’s in Stahlstich nebst erläuterndem Text. Triest, 1854, 88, as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Die vornehmsten Kunstdenkmäler in Wien. 2 vols. Vienna, 1866–87, 1:310, as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • Frimmel, Theodor. Kleine Galeriestudien. 3 vols. Bamberg and Leipzig, 1892–96, 1:118, as by Rembrandt; 3:24–25, no. 18, as by Ferdinand Bol.
  • Katalog der Gemälde-Gallerie seiner erlaucht des Grafen Schönborn-Buchheim in Wien. Vienna, 1894, 4, no. 18, as by Ferdinand Bol.
  • Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. “Die Rembrandt-Ausstellungen zu Amsterdam (September–October 1898) und zu London (Januar–März 1899).” Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 22 (1899): 164, as by Govaert Flinck.
  • Katalog der Gemälde-Gallerie seiner erlaucht des Grafen Schönborn-Buchheim in Wien. Vienna, 1902, 4, no. 18, as by Ferdinand Bol.
  • Wurzbach, Alfred von. Niederländisches Künstler-Lexikon. 3 vols. Vienna, 1906–11, 1:538, as by Govert Flinck.
  • Thieme, Ulrich, and Felix Becker. Allgemeines Lexicon der Bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart. 37 vols. Leipzig, 1907–50, 12:98, as by Govaert Flinck.
  • Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century Based on the Work of John Smith. Edited and translated by Edward G. Hawke, 8 vols. London, 1907–28, 6:456, no.4. Originally published as Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten höllandischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen and Paris, 1907–28, as by Govaert Flinck.
  • Van De Waal, Henri. ‘“Hagar in de woestijn” door Rembrandt en zijn school.” Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 1 (1947): 151, 164, no. 8, as by Govaert Flinck.
  • Fuhrmann, Franz. Residenzgalerie Salzburg mit Sammlung Czernin und Sammlung Schönborn-Buchheim. Salzburg, 1958, 6, no. 153, as by Ferdinand Bol.
  • Buschbeck, Ernst H., Franz Fuhrmann, and Annemarie Ingram. Residenzgalerie Salzburg mit Sammlung Czernin und Sammlung Schönborn-Buchheim. Salzburg, 1962, 36, no. 17 and no. 19, as by Ferdinand Bol.
  • Von Moltke, Joachim. Govaert Flinck: 1615–1660. Amsterdam, 1965, 224, no. 4, as by Ferdinand Bol.
  • Buschbeck, Ernst H., Franz Fuhrmann, and Annemarie Ingram. Residenzgalerie Salzburg mit Sammlung Czernin und Sammlung Schönborn-Buchheim. Salzburg, 1970, 34, no. 17 and no. 21, as by Ferdinand Bol.
  • Blechinger, Edmund. Salzburger Landessammlungen. Residenzgalerie mit Sammlung Czernin und Sammlung Schönborn-Buchheim. Salzburg, 1980, 45, no. 22, as by Ferdinand Bol.
  • Blankert, Albert. Ferninand Bol (1616–1680): Rembrandt’s Pupil. Doornspijk, 1982, 162, no. R3 and no. 97, as by circle of Rembrandt.
  • Sumowski, Werner. Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler. 6 vols. Landau and Pfalz, 1983–94, 5:3096, no. 2071; 6:3641, no. 2071.
  • Ziemba, Antoni. “‘Die Auferweckung des Lazarus’ von Carel Fabritius in Warschau.” Niederdeutsche Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte 29 (1990): 110, as by Ferdinand Bol.
  • Sitt, Martina. Auf den Spuren des Lichts. Studien zur niederländischen Malerei in der Residenzgalerie Salzburg. Salzburg, 1991, 108–12, as by Ferdinand Bol.
  • Groschner, Gabriele. “Hagar und der Engel.” In Meisterwerke, Residenzgalerie Salzburg. Edited by Gabriele Groschner et al. 14–15. Salzburg, 2001.
  • Kesting, Markus, ed. Barocke Sammellust. Die Sammlung Schönborn-Buchheim. Exh. cat. Munich, Haus der Kunst. Munich, 2003, 104–5, 284.
  • Duparc, Frederik J. “Carel Fabritius (1622–1655), His Life and Work.” In Carel Fabritius 1622–1654. Edited by Frederik J. Duparc, 32–33, 35. Exh. cat. The Hague, The Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis; Schwerin, National Museum. Zwolle, 2004.
  • Seelig, Gero. “Hagar and the Angel.” In Carel Fabritius 1622–1655. Edited by Frederik J. Duparc, 85–90, no. 2. Exh. cat. The Hague, The Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis; Schwerin, National Museum. Zwolle, 2004.
  • Duparc, Frederik J. “Results of the Recent Art Historical and Technical Research on Carel Fabritius’s Early Work.” Oud Holland 119 (2006): 81–88.
  • Seelig, Gero. “The Dating of Fabritius’s Stay in Amsterdam.” Oud Holland 119 (2006): 96–97.
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  • Surh, Dominique.  “Hagar and the Angel.” In Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection: The Age of Rembrandt. Edited by Blaise Ducos and Dominique Surh, 34, no. 7. Exh. cat. Paris, Musée du Louvre. Paris, 2017.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Rembrandt and His Time: China and the Dutch Republic in the Golden Age.” In Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 9; 14, no. 22. Translated by Li Ying. Exh. cat. Beijing, National Museum of China. Beijing, 2017.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Hagar and the Angel.” In Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 64–65; 177, no. 22. Translated by Li Ying. Exh. cat. Beijing, National Museum of China. Beijing, 2017.
  • Wang, Jia. “Dutch Painting in Golden Age.” In Journal of National Museum of China 169, no. 8 (2017): 36.
  • Long Museum, West Bund. Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Exh. cat. Shanghai, Long Museum, West Bund. Shanghai, 2017, 83.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “The Leiden Collection and the Dutch Golden Age.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 18; 29. Translated by Daria Babich and Daria Kuzina. Exh. cat. Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Moscow, 2018.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Hagar and the Angel.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 220–21; 247, no. 77. Translated by Daria Babich and Daria Kuzina. Exh. cat. Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Moscow, 2018.

The painting was executed on a medium-weight, plain-weave canvas constructed from two pieces of fabric joined with a horizontal seam. It has been lined and the tacking margins on the top, bottom and right sides are later additions that were sewn on. The red ground on the added tacking margins extends onto the surface of the painting in some areas. Most of the left tacking margin remains intact. It contains fragments of paint which match that of the painting. It is unclear whether this edge was part of the finished composition or if the artist turned it over during the painting process.

The support was prepared with a buff-colored ground. Sweeping marks visible in the X-radiographs indicate that the ground was applied with a palette knife. The composition was fluidly painted with a wet-into-wet technique. Fabritius also scraped into the paint with the butt end of the brush in areas such as the leaves in the right foreground and the flask. Though they do not appear on the surface of the painting, several artist’s changes are visible as dark shadows peaking through the uppermost paint layers. The most notable change is in Hagar’s skirt, which was changed from blue to gray.

The painting has suffered some abrasion, particularly in the shadows of the drapery and foliage. The midtones have darkened over time, causing loss of clarity in some areas, such as the background foliage and the pool of water in the middle ground. The painting was treated between 2011 and 2013. During this treatment, discolored varnish and retouchings were removed, an old lining was replaced with a more compatible one, surface deformations were improved, and the abrasion and losses were inpainted.

Engraved

  1. Franz Wrenk after Carel Fabritius, Hagar and the Angel, mezzotint, 1804, 64.2 x 50 cm, British Museum, London.
  2. C. Geyer after Carel Fabritius, Hagar and the Angel, engraving (published in A. R. von Perger, Die Kunstschätze Wien’s in Stahlstich nebst erläuterndem Text [Triest, 1854], as by Rembrandt).
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