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Antonio Tempesta (attributed to) (Florence 1555 - Rome 1630)

The sacrifice of Isaac

Oil on slate

23.2 x 29.1 cm

Italian painting in the 17th and 17th centuries was rich both from a technical point of view and in these subjects. This oil on slate, attributed to Antonio Tempesta, is a good illustration of this mastery of pictorial art at that time, although its somewhat particular support looks more like an art object than pictorial art.


The sacrifice of Isaac is a classic subject in religious painting. The scene depicted here is that of Abraham taking action, who, at Christ's request, is ready to execute his son Isaac. One of the best-known works on this theme is that of Caravaggio, produced in 1603. In our version, Abraham is dressed in a gray toga and an orange stole. He is depicted looking skyward, brandishing a dagger and about to strike his son. The latter, naked, looks towards the ground with resignation.

Moreover, the decor is very simple and comes down to a tree, a few branches under Isaac's knees, and in the distance, at the bottom left of the composition, a stretch of greenery and a few houses.

The painter presents us here a fine and careful work, in particular on the details of the faces of the two characters and on the drapes of Abraham's clothes which stand out perfectly thanks to the dark background of this realization. The oil on slate technique gives this subject and this scene a theatrical dimension specific to the material and the color of it.


Stone is a particular medium in pictorial art: it would tend to make us consider this work more as an object of art than as a traditional pictorial work. In addition, it makes any identification or attribution difficult because the technique and style can be totally different in the same artist depending on the medium he uses. However, the treatment of the color, the style as well as the delicacy of the line allow us to think that it is indeed a work of Tempesta. Its elements make this slate a singular object with rare aesthetics thanks to its shiny black color which brings out the subjects and colored elements like no canvas could.

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