Abraham and Hagar

Jan van de Velde (1593-1641), Abraham and Hagar, etching, 1616. Reference: Hollstein 266, Franken and Van der Kellen 305. Hollstein’s first state (of 2), F/VK’s third state (of 4), with the number 11 lower right, before the 3 upper right. In good condition apart from a stain (?) in sky, browning toward the outer edges of the paper, on laid paper with wide margins, 4 3/4 x 7 1/4, the sheet 7 1/4 x 9 3/4, archival window mat.

A fine clear impression with the details printing vividly.

Abraham and Hagar and their son Ishmael are seen in the lower right. Unable to conceive, Sarah had given her Egyptian maid Hagar as a concubine to Abraham. Hagar bore Ishmael, but later Sarah miraculously conceived, and so convinced Abraham to expel Hagar and Ishmael (in this scene Abraham is carrying out this wish). But (in a long tradition for Flemish and Dutch art) the story takes a tiny part of this print; in the foreground a group of shepherds rest with their sheep, and 17th Century Dutch fields, trees and houses populate the furthest reach of the background.

Van de Velde’s etching approach appears to be modeled on drawing, although at the time many etchers – most notably Jacques Callot – used etching to emulate the appearance of engraving. Several decades later Rembrandt made etchings reminiscent of Van de Velde’s Abraham and Hagar, both in approach and subject matter.

Van de Velde was quite sophisticated in his use of etching technique, e.g., the different levels of black in this print were achieved by bathing different sections of the plate in acid for varying times, thereby creating deeper etching lines in certain areas (such as the left foreground), very lightly etched lines in others (such as the left background).