On the run from his murderous twin brother Esau, Jacob stops to rest for the night and receives a vision from God. In this story from the Christian tradition from the Bible’s Old Testament (Genesis 28:10-12), Jacob dreams of a ladder stretching from earth to heaven on which angels were ascending and descending.
Until the late nineteenth century, this painting was thought to be by Rembrandt and was one of the most popular works in the Dulwich Picture Gallery collection. The painting was copied by several British artists including John Constable (1776-1837) and Ralph Cockburn (1779-1820), the first Keeper of Dulwich Picture Gallery. In 1915, the painting was reattributed to Arent de Gelder (1645-1727), Rembrandt's last pupil and later, in 1946, De Gelder’s signature was revealed during cleaning. De Gelder inscribed his signature into the paint with the end of a brush in the lower right corner. He learnt this experimental technique from Rembrandt and would have applied it while the paint was still wet. The same technique has also been used to define the grass and the branches of the trees.