Lt. Col. C. R. McCausland (until 1962; sale, Sotheby’s London, July 11, 1962, lot 27, to Betts); David M. Koetser, Zurich (Meeting of Jacob and Esau, in 1967); Julius Weitzner, London and New York (Israelites Crossing the Red Sea, in 1970); Richard Feigen, New York (both paintings, by 1972-73; sold to Princeton University Art Museum).
Monogrammed and dated on rock, lower right: Ad 1594
Similarities in size, format, and narrative content make it likely that Meeting of Jacob and Esau and Israelites Crossing the Red Sea were conceived as pendant works—a visually and thematically related pair. Each painting is concerned with a subject associated with contemporary Calvinist doctrine, a subtle but important connection. Just as the Crossing of the Red Sea demonstrated the necessity of divine providence for spiritual salvation, the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau celebrated the just order God creates for the world. In this Old Testament episode, the divinely favored Jacob reconciles with his older brother Esau after having wrested from him their family birthright. Reverent onlookers appreciate the sanctity of the moment, implicitly encouraging the viewer to adopt a similar conciliatory attitude, while alluding to contemporary reformed assemblies. Guiding responses to religious imagery and legitimizing its use presented challenges for artists in the northern Netherlands, where Calvinist practice encouraged illustrations of Old Testament scenes in secular contexts but strictly prohibited images in religious contexts.
Ordered by God to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, Moses called down a series of plagues upon the Egyptians, and the pharaoh let them depart. When they arrived at the Red Sea, God parted the waves to let them cross safely, as shown here; the closing waves behind them destroyed the pursuing Egyptian army while the Israelites continued on their journey toward the Promised Land. This foundational story of migration was later used by the Dutch Calvinists of the Northern Netherlands as a metaphor for their liberation from Spanish occupation, and by African American abolitionists as a symbol of their aspirations in the spiritual “Go Down, Moses.” Betsy Rosasco, Research Curator of European Painting and Sculpture
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