Over the centuries, many artists have depicted the pivotal moment in the Old Testament story from Genesis when Abraham, in obedience to God’s command, attempts to sacrifice his favorite son, Isaac. While an angel prevented the father’s deadly blow, Abraham’s submission to God was proven with his intent.
Here, Rembrandt focused on the parent-child dialogue that precedes the narrative climax. As Abraham and Isaac ascend the mountain to the place of sacrifice, Isaac realizes they had brought no animal to sacrifice. He questioned his father about the matter, to which Abraham explains that God will provide the offering—the moment we see in this work. As Abraham replies and gestures toward heaven, Isaac, carrying the kindling wood, listens with reservation. His concern foreshadows the events that lie before him. Rembrandt’s portrayal of their relationship, in which Isaac must trust and obey his father, provides an interesting parallel for the relationship between Abraham and God.