WERFF, Adriaen van der
(b. 1659, Kralingen, d. 1722, Rotterdam)

Sarah Presenting Hagar to Abraham

Oil on canvas, 76,3 x 61 cm
Staatsgalerie, Schleissheim

In the biblical story Sarah, still childless in maturity, gave her Egyptian slave to her husband Abraham, so he could produce an heir with her. Hagar's smooth nudity announces her success in arousing the aging man - a feat that later caused his wrenching dilemma, when Sarah gave birth to Isaac and asked Abraham to dismiss Hagar and her son.

The air of illicit titillation suffusing the painting, roundly condemned by Calvinist preachers, surely enhanced its appeal, even or possibly because the represented woman is ultimately two-dimensional and cold. It offers allowable pleasure, vicarious thrills that can be experienced without moral danger.