Sacrifice of Abraham
The Sacrifice of Isaac
Zagreb, Zagreb County, Croatia
Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters
Federico Bencovich [Federiko Benković] (1677?, Dalmatia, Omiš (?) or Venice-8 July 1753, Gorizia)
Oil on canvas
H: 220 cm; w: 163 cm
“Neotenebrous” Venetian Settecento painting
First half of 18th century
This relatively large, upright rectangular painting depicts Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac as told in the Old Testament story (Genesis 22: 1–19). Omitting the narrative details of the story, the painter shows the moment Abraham is stopped by an angel just as he is about to carry out the divine command to sacrifice his own son, Isaac.
The prevailing deep, dusky and dark palette along with dense shadows contrast with the lit masses, the dynamic distribution of which reflect the dramatic charge of the moment. The illuminated accents concentrate attention on the diagonally placed body of the victim, Isaac, while Abraham's elderly, worn-out face reveals his inner turmoil and the difficulty he faced in making the decision. The divine intervention of the angel breaks into the composition from the left, in a foreshortened diagonal of the opposite course.
The picture is one of four works by Benković that Count Franz Lothar von Schönborn, Elector and Archbishop of Mainz and Prince Bishop of Bamberg, commissioned in 1715 while he was refurbishing the family castle in Pommersfelden. A print by Salomon Kleiner of 1728 shows the interior of Castle Schönborn following its re-arrangement of 1715, which is useful to reconstruct the order of the paintings. On the window wall of the middle room were Benković's Sacrifice of Abraham and Hagar and Ishmael, and on the ceiling the Sacrifice of Iphigeneia and Apollo and Marsius. Two paintings – Hagar and Ishmael and Iphigeneia – are on display in Castle Schönborn to this day, but the French military removed Apollo and Marsius and the Sacrifice of Abraham from the castle in 1801. The Sacrifice of Abraham allegedly turned up in a private collection in Rome in 1868, and then in London in 1936; the Association of Friends of the Strossmayer Gallery bought it in 1936.
Sacrifice of Abraham is one of four compositions commissioned by Federico Benković for the Schönborn family's castle in Pommersfelden. The painter achieves dramatic tension by depicting the very moment at which an angel stops Abraham from sacrificing his son, Isaac, as told in the Old Testament story.
Lothar Franz von Schönborn (1655–1729), Elector and Archbishop of Mainz and Prince-Bishop of Bamberg
Identification of the Zagreb painting was based on written (the inventory of the castle of the Schönborn family in Pommersfelden) and pictorial sources (a print of the interior of Castle Schönborn in Pommersfelden, 1728).
The Association of Friends of the Strossmayer Gallery bought the picture in 1936 in London. In 1868, it was allegedly part of a private collection in Rome, and in 1801, the French government requisitioned the painting in the Schönborn family’s castle in Pommersfelden.
Krückmann, P. O., Federico Bencovich 1677–1753, Hildesheim, Zürich-New York, 1988.
Brajder, A., “Tragom Benkovićevih slika u dvorcu Pommersfeldenu”, Peristil 34, 1991, pp. 85–90.
Vandura, D., “Benkovićev Abraham i Kleinerov Pommersfelden”, Prilozi povijesti umjetnosti u Dalmaciji 34, 1994, pp. 259–268.
Tomić, R., “Federiko Benković. Abraham's Sacrifice”, The Croats. Christianity, Culture, Art (eds. V. Marković and A. Badurina), Zagreb, 1999, pp. 522–523.
Prijatelj, K. and Prijatelj Pavičić, I., “Slikarstvo u Dalmaciji u europskome kontekstu”, Hrvatska i Europa (ed. I. Supičić), vol. III: Barok i prosvjetiteljstvo (ed. I. Golub), Zagreb, 2003, pp. 675–688.
Ljerka Dulibić "Sacrifice of Abraham" in "Discover Baroque Art", Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://www.discoverbaroqueart.org/database_item.php?id=object;BAR;hr;Mus11_A;14;en
Prepared by: Ljerka Dulibić
Copyedited by: Graham McMaster
Translation by: Graham McMaster
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: HR 14