- Gallery Text
Zacharias(?) and the Angel exhibits the impetuous, zigzag pen lines that are a salient feature of Rembrandt’s technique from the mid-1630s. He used the sketch to address an artistic and iconographic problem that deeply engaged him and his pupils: the portrayal of a human response to divine revelation and intervention in affairs of this world. By isolating the protagonists from their narrative context, he concentrated exclusively on their interaction, but the omission of a setting or any reference to the narrative hampers the identification of the subject. When the elderly priest Zacharias went alone into the temple to burn incense, an angel appeared and promised that a son, the future John the Baptist, would be born to him and his barren wife. Incredulous, Zacharias asked, “Whereby shall I know this?” The angel rebuked him for doubting God’s messenger, and this exchange is probably the subject of the drawing.
- Identification and Creation
- Object Number
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Dutch (Leiden 1606 - 1669 Amsterdam)
- Zacharias (?) and the Angel
- Work Type
- c. 1635
- Physical Descriptions
- Brown ink on off-white antique laid paper, two framing lines in brown ink
- 10.9 x 11.5 cm (4 5/16 x 4 1/2 in.)
- Inscriptions and Marks
- inscription: verso, upper center, graphite: No. 7.
- inscription: verso, lower left, graphite, partially erased: J. 5788
- collector's mark: verso, lower center, blue ink stamp: L. 3306 (Maida and George Abrams)
- watermark: none
- Comte de Robiano, Brussels, sold; [Muller, Amsterdam, 15 - 16 June 1926, lot 418]; to [Muller (bought in).] Anton W.M. Mensing, Amsterdam, sold; [Muller, Amsterdam, 27-29 April 1937, lot 200 (as Govert Flinck)], to Frits Lugt, Maartensdijk. Carl Robert Rudolf, London (L. 2811b, without his mark), sold; to Maida and George Abrams, Boston, 1975 (L. 3306, verso, lower center); The Maida and George Abrams Collection, 1999.163.
- Published Text
- Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums
- William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson
- Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016)
Catalogue entry no. 67 by William W. Robinson:
Frits Lugt, the great Dutch art historian and collector, acquired this study at the 1937 estate sale of his former business partner Anton Mensing, where it sold under the name of Rembrandt’s pupil Govert Flinck.1 Lugt probably recognized that the pen work of the old man’s face, sleeve, shoulder, and left hand closely resembled that of comparable passages in a drawing by Rembrandt already in his own collection (Fig. 1).2 Lugt eventually traded or sold the present sheet to the London collector C. R. Rudolf, from whom Maida and George Abrams purchased it in 1975.
Both Zacharias(?) and the Angel and the Figure 1 study, which is still in Lugt’s collection, date from the mid-1630s.3 The Harvard drawing exhibits the impetuous, zigzag pen lines that are a salient feature of Rembrandt’s technique of that period.4 Rembrandt used the sketch to address an artistic and iconographic problem that deeply engaged him and his pupils: the portrayal of a human response to divine revelation and intervention in affairs of this world. By isolating the protagonists from their narrative context he concentrated exclusively on their interaction, but the omission of a setting or any reference to the narrative hampers identification of the subject. Of the interpretations scholars have proposed for this work—Abraham conversing with God, in the guise of an angel, about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:23–32); Saint Peter in prison; the angel instructing Joseph to flee into Egypt; and Zacharias in the temple with the angel Gabriel5—the last is the most plausible and is provisionally accepted here.
According to the text in the Gospel of Saint Luke (1:18–19), when the priest Zacharias went alone into the temple to burn incense, an angel appeared and promised that a son, the future John the Baptist, would be born to him and his barren wife, Elizabeth. Incredulous, Zacharias asked, “Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man and my wife well stricken in years.” The angel rebuked him for doubting God’s will: “I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.” This exchange is presumably the one represented in the drawing. The angel’s declamatory gesture, which Rembrandt altered and corrected so that it is now barely legible, and the questioning gesture and facial expression of the old man are the expressive problems the artist set out to resolve in the sketch. Whatever its subject, the Harvard sheet is not a study for a painting or print, but one made for practice with the goal of improving the artist’s capacity for invention, composition, and expression. Rembrandt frequently sketched historical themes to practice and to create models for the instruction of his students. Works of this type constitute one of the largest categories of drawings by the master and his pupils.6
1 See “Provenance.” When Mensing acquired the drawing in 1926 at the Comte de Robiano sale, it was offered as a Rembrandt.
2 Rembrandt van Rijn, Three Bust-Length Studies of an Old Man (Fig. 1). Brown ink on light brown prepared paper. 174 × 160 mm. Paris, Fondation Custodia, Frits Lugt Collection, 1922. Peter Schatborn, Rembrandt and His Circle: Drawings in the Frits Lugt Collection, (Bussum, Netherlands, 2010), vol. 1, cat. 1, pp. 22–25.
3 Schatborn, vol. 1, cat. 1, p. 24. Schatborn compared the Lugt drawing with Rembrandt’s Berlin copy after Leonardo’s Last Supper (Otto Benesch, The Drawings of Rembrandt, enlarged and edited by Eva Benesch, Oxford 1973, vol. 2, cat. 445), which is signed and dated 1635, and with the study for his 1635 painting The Abduction of Ganymede (Benesch, vol. 1, cat. 92). Comparison with those drawings also confirms the dating of the Harvard drawing to circa 1635.
4 See the drawings in Berlin and Besançon cited by Schatborn (vol. 1, p. 24) as comparable to the Harvard and Lugt studies.
5 Benesch (vol. 1, cat. 132, p. 37) identified the subject as Abraham and God visiting him in the form of an angel (Genesis 18:9), while Hans-Martin Rotermund (Rembrandts Handzeichnungen und Radierungen zur Bibel, Stuttgart, 1963, p. 13) interpreted it as a later moment in Genesis 18, when Abraham queried God about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:23–32). Franklin Robinson (Seventeenth-Century Dutch Drawings from American Collections, Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art; Denver: Denver Art Museum; Fort Worth, TX: Kimbell Art Museum, 1977, cat. 31, p. 34) raised other possible interpretations—Zacharias and the angel, the angel warning Joseph to flee into Egypt, and the angel freeing Peter from prison—and tentatively accepted the last one.
6 Holm Bevers in Holm Bevers, Lee Hendrix, William W. Robinson, and Peter Schatborn, Drawings by Rembrandt and His Pupils: Telling the Difference (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2009), pp. 19–22.
- Acquisition and Rights
- Credit Line
- The Maida and George Abrams Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Accession Year
- Object Number
- European and American Art
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- Publication History
Otto Benesch, The Drawings of Rembrandt, Phaidon Press (Oxford, 1954 - 1957), vol. 1, cat. no. 132, p. 37, repr. fig. 144
Werner Sumowski, "Bemerkungen zu Otto Beneschs Corpus der Rembrandt-Zeichnungen I", Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Humbolt-Universität zu Berlin, Gesellschafts- und sprachwissenschaftliche Reihe (1956-1957), vol. 6, no. 4, pp. 255-81, p. 257
C. R. Rudolf, Old Master Drawings from the Collection of Mr. C. R. Rudolf, Arts Council of Great Britain, London (London, England, 1962), cat. no. 121, p. 23
Hans-Martin Rotermund, Rembrandts Handzeichnungen und Radierungen zur Bibel, Ernst Kaufmann Lahr (Stuttgart, Germany, 1963), pp. 12-13 and 311, repr. p. 38, fig. 15
Hans-Martin Rotermund, Rembrandt's Drawings and Etchings for the Bible, Pilgrim Press (Philadelphia, PA, 1969), pp. 13 and 311, repr. p. 38, fig. 15
Otto Benesch, The Drawings of Rembrandt [enlarged ed.], Phaidon Press (Oxford, 1973), vol. 1, cat. no. 132, pp. 37-38, repr. fig. 158
Franklin W. Robinson, Seventeenth Century Dutch Drawings from American Collections, exh. cat., International Exhibitions Foundation (Washington, D.C, 1977), cat. no. 31, pp. xvi and 33-34, repr.
William W. Robinson, "Abrams Dutch Drawings Given to the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass.", Apollo (December 1999), vol. 150, pp. 14-16, p. 16
William W. Robinson, Bruegel to Rembrandt: Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2002), cat. no. 44, pp. 114-15 and 256, repr.
Michiel C. Plomp, "[Review] Bruegel to Rembrandt. Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Maida and George Abrams Collection.", Oud Holland (2004), vol. 117, no. 1/2, pp. 99-102, pp. 99 and 101 (n. 3)
Susan Lumenello, "Picturing an Exhibition: On the Making of 'Rembrandt'", Colloquy [Harvard Alumni Quarterly] (Fall 2006), pp. 2-3, 11, repr. cover (detail)
Ivan Gaskell, Rembrandt and the Aesthetics of Technique, brochure, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2006), checklist
Holm Bevers, Rembrandt: Die Zeichnungen im Berliner Kupferstichkabinett, exh. cat., Hatje Cantz Verlag (Ostfildern, Germany, 2006), under cat. no. 10, p. 55
Peter Schatborn, Rembrandt and his Circle: Drawings in the Frits Lugt Collection, Thoth Publishers and Fondation Custodia (2010), vol. 1, under cat. no. 1, p. 24, repr. vol. 2, p. 214, fig. 1
Peter C. Sutton and William W. Robinson, Drawings by Rembrandt, his Students and Circle from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, exh. cat., Bruce Museum and Yale University Press (U.S.) (New Haven and London, 2011), cat. no. 2, pp. 11, 18 and 42-43, repr. p. 43 and detail p. 38
The Drawings of Rembrandt: a revision of Otto Benesch's catalogue raisonné, website, 2012, Benesch 132, and under Benesch 94a
William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson, Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016), pp. 20-21; cat. no. 67, pp. 228-230, repr. p. 229
Peter Schatborn and Erik Hinterding, Rembrandt: The Complete Drawings and Etchings, Taschen (Cologne, 2019), cat. no. D32, p. 52, repr.
- Exhibition History
Old Master Drawings from the Collection of Mr. C. R. Rudolf, Arts Council Gallery, London, London, 01/05/1962 - 02/03/1962; City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, 02/17/1962 - 03/11/1962; Leeds City Art Gallery, Leeds, 03/17/1962 - 04/07/1962
Seventeenth Century Dutch Drawings from American Collections, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 01/30/1977 - 03/13/1977; Denver Art Museum, Denver, 04/01/1977 - 05/15/1977; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 06/01/1977 - 07/15/1977
Bruegel to Rembrandt: Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, British Museum, London, 06/13/2002 - 09/22/2002; Institut Néerlandais, Paris, 10/10/2002 - 12/08/2002; Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 03/22/2003 - 07/06/2003
Abrams 50th reunion exhibition, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 06/01/2004 - 06/14/2004
Rembrandt and the Aesthetics of Technique, Harvard University Art Museums, Busch-Reisinger Museum, 09/09/2006 - 12/10/2006
Rembrandt Prints & Drawings, Davis Museum at Wellesley College, Wellesley, 11/05/2008 - 12/14/2008
Drawings by Rembrandt, his Students and Circle from the Collection of Maida and George Abrams, Bruce Museum, Greenwich, 09/24/2011 - 01/08/2012; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Houston, 04/15/2012 - 07/08/2012
Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/21/2016 - 08/14/2016
- Subjects and Contexts
Dutch, Flemish, & Netherlandish Drawings
This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at email@example.com