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Jacob with Laban and his Daughters

The French painter Claude (c. 1605-1682) is celebrated as one of the greatest of all landscape painters, creating compositions that were more beautiful and harmoniously organised than could be found in nature itself. As landscape painting was considered a less distinguished subject for art in the seventeenth century (than religious or historical painting, for example), Claude often featured a biblical or mythological theme to lend more prestige to his work and allow for the expression of poetic ideas. 

This painting depicts the biblical story of Jacob, who had promised to work as a shepherd for his uncle Laban for seven years in order to be given permission to marry Laban’s daughter, Rachel. Laban, however, tricked Jacob when his wedding finally arrived by disguising his elder daughter Leah as Rachel. Claude illustrates the moment where Laban demands another seven years' labour from Jacob before he can finally marry his beloved Rachel. 

Despite the drama of the events unfolding, Claude evokes a landscape of natural harmony beneath a tranquil blue sky. The impression of an expansive vista is created by alternating shades of pale silvery blue, green, yellow and violet grey that recede into the landscape. These horizontal bands of colour are contrasted with the vertical forms of the central tree, the round tower - and even the elongated forms of the central figures - providing stability to the composition. Unfortunately, Claude's techniques appear to have made his work particularly susceptible to a chemical deterioration known as blanching, which have given the painting this pale, milky appearance.  

Currently on display

Gallery 11
72 x 94.5 cm
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated, indistinctly, bottom centre left: 'CLADIO IVF/ ROM. 1676'
Bourgeois Bequest, 1811
Accession number