ZANCHI, Antonio
(b. 1631, Este, d. 1722, Venezia)

Abraham Teaching Astrology to the Egyptians

c. 1665
Oil on canvas, 276 x 370 cm
Santa Maria del Giglio, Venice

Zanchi came to Venice as a very young man and was trained in the style of the tenebrosi. For the devotees of this strict form of Caravaggesque painting, contact with the early work of Luca Giordano (who sojourned in Venice between 1650 and 1654) was fundamental. But Zanchi, a cultivated man and the author of a treatise (unfortunately surviving in only fragmentary form), built his style on the local figurative traditions of the sixteenth century: the freedom of handling and muted tonalities of late Titian, Veronese's treatment of light, and the atmospheric effects of Tintoretto.

The subject of the present painting, fairly rare in seventeenth-century paining, was described by Josephus in his Early History of the Jews. The episode relates that Abraham came to know God not through reading the Scriptures but by studying the stars.

In this painting, the composition revolves around a huge globe of the world lit by a merciless light. It is an unusual subject for a Tenebrist painter.