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Karel Dujardin
Dutch, c. 1622-1678
SN 270, oil on canvas, c. 1662

From: "The Pages"

Dujardin was a versatile Dutch painter, born probably in Amsterdam. He died in Venice.

Among them is a trio of great religious subjects Dujardin painted in Amsterdam, one of the major achievements of their kind in Dutch religious painting of the 17th c. Hagar & Ishmael is one; the other two are The Conversion of Saul and Peter Healing the Sick.

Although he is best known for his bucolic visions of The Roman countryside, Dujardin painted a good number of religious and mythological scenes, particularly in the 1660s.

Dujardin divided his career between Italy and Holland and studied under the Dutch Italianate painter Nicolaes Berchem in Rome. While living in Amsterdam in the late 1650’s he turned to history painting in the classical vein, then much in favor in Holland.

The theme was a popular one in Dutch 17th c. art. The story is from the Book of Genesis: Abraham’s wife Sarah seemed barren, so she suggested he take her maid Hagar as a second wife. However, the subsequent birth of Ishmael became a source of jealousy for Sarah when she did indeed bear a son of her own, Isaac. At Sarah’s insistence, Hagar and Ishmael were banished to the desert to die. However, and angel led them to a spring, thus saving their lives. Ishmael grew up to father the Arab nation, while Isaac became the Patriarch of the Jews.

This dramatic monumental canvas is one of Dujardin’s masterpieces. Complete with grand gestures, all indicative of strong Italian influence, it is still typically Dutch in its interest in the still-life features: note the meticulously painted knapsack on which Hagar leans; the face is a Northern type, not what you’ll find in the purely Italian painting.

The angel, Hagar and the tree trunks are arranged in a massive “V” that dominates the tightly balanced composition.

The hand positions tell the story…the angel’s right hand points to Heaven, the source of their help; the left gestures toward the spring that has miraculously appeared. Hagar’s left hand touches the empty water jug to indicate her plight, while her right hand holds the cup for Ishmael: her eyes acknowledge the heavenly source. Only Dujardin would think of including a small angel, just Ishmael’s size , to help him.

Catholic Dujardin found that Holland didn’t extend tolerance toward Catholics, whom they despised and harassed. Forbidden to have their own churches, Catholics were permitted to have private chapels. This painting must have been done for one of them.

Many Dutch painters treated the subject of Hagar’s rescue, among them Rembrandt. It may be that part of the vogue was due to the 17th c. Dutch conception of women as either victims or victors, a recurrent theme in contemporary works. The various attitudes of different artists are interesting, ranging from the righteous ejection of a mistress and illegitimate son, to the portrayal of Abraham as a lecher accosting Hagar.