REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn
(b. 1606, Leiden, d. 1669, Amsterdam)

Balaam's Ass

Oil on panel, 63 x 47 cm
Musée Cognacq-Jay, Paris

Catalogue number: Bredius 487.

Like his masater Pieter Lastman, Rembrandt painted angels and visions. One of rembrandt's earliest paintings shows an angel interfering in human life, and it is derived from a similar work by Lastman.

The biblical story (Num. 22:1-35) represented here is the following. The arrival of the Israelites in the Jordan valley alarmed Balak, king of Moab, who sent for Balaam, a foreigner, to pronounce a curse on them. On his journey an angel, invisible to Balaam, barred the way, causing his ass to turn aside. This led to an altercation between the man and his beast in which the latter, like the animals of fable, acquired the gift of speech. Balaam's eyes were then opened and he saw the angel with a drawn sword. The conversion of Balaam by the vision of the angel was regarded as prefiguration of the appearance of Christ to the apostle Thomas.

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