BIBLE PICTURES   © Serge Ceruti and Gérard  Dufour 2008






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Isaac sitting in Bed blesses Jacob; Rebecca instructs Jacob and bids him to fetch two young Goats; 1332; illuminated miniature; manuscript MMW 10 B 21 15r; Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague

 Museum Meermanno






What you can see in this picture……

Old Isaac is about to die, he wants to bless his elder son, Esau, but it is the younger one, his mother’s favourite son, who substitutes himself for him, and tricks his blind father.

Isaac is old and ill, therefore bedridden but also blind. It is then by touch that he must recognize his elder son. With his right hand he blesses his son.

Jacob, who wants to pass himself off as his brother Esau, has put a skin on his arm (or slipped on a glove) to imitate his elder brother’s hairy arm. His father thinks he recognizes him in touching him.

Rebecca, Jacob and Esau’s mother, has arranged everything; she keeps an eye on the scene and pushes her favourite son.



and in other pictures

Esau is, of course, absent but his return is a threat; that is why he is sometimes represented coming in the distance, back from hunting, with the game on his shoulder.


The scene takes place in Isaac’s room, whose scenery varies according to the centuries, but very often one can see the dish of game that Jacob has brought to his father.


The representation can emphasize
either the recognition by showing Isaac feeling Jacob’s arm,
or the benediction by showing Isaac raise his hand on his son.

It should not be confused with

Jacob blesses Ephraim and Manasse; REMBRANDT; 1656; oil on canvas; MuseumsLandschaft Hessen, Kassel, Germany



Jacob’s benediction of Manasse and Ephraim.

Isaac’s benediction of Jacob should not be mistaken for the one taking place in the next generation. This time, it is Jacob who is old and blind, and he is called to bless his grand-sons, Manasse and Ephraim, the children of his son Joseph. While the latter presents the elder Manasse, Jacob chooses the younger, Ephraim. In order to reverse the benediction, Isaac often crosses his hands above the heads of the children.

See Genesis, Chapter 48, verses 13-22





Isaac sitting in Bed blesses Jacob; Rebecca instructs Jacob and bids him to fetch two young Goats; 1332; illuminated miniature; manuscript MMW 10 B 21 15r; Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague

Museum Meermanno



The Book of Genesis, chapter 27    

Isaac and his wife Rebecca have had two twin sons: Esau who is the elder, and Jacob, the younger. Their rivalry is constant and, while Isaac prefers Esau, Rebecca prefers Jacob. One day, Esau gives up his birthright against a dish of lentils. But Jacob still does not have his father’s benediction.

Old Isaac has become nearly blind. Before dying, he wants to bless his elder son and he asks him to go and kill some game and to prepare him a dish of meat. But Rebecca decides to substitute Jacob for Esau.

"And she put the skins of the kids of the goats on his hands, and on the smooth of his neck: And he came to his father, and said: "My father !" And he said : "Here I am; who are you, my son?"  And Jacob said unto his father : "I am Esau your firstborn; I have done according as you told me: arise, I pray you, sit and eat of my venison, that your soul may bless me." And Isaac said to Jacob : "Come near, I pray you, that I may feel you, my son, whether you are my very son Esau or not." And Jacob went near Isaac his father and he felt him, and said: "The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau !" IAnd he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau's hands: so he blessed him. (Genesis 27:16-23)

When Esau comes back from the hunt, the trick is discovered but the benedictions are irrevocable.



The couple Jacob-Esau is that of enemy brothers that reappears at every moment in the Jewish history. Jacob, whose name means “whom God protects or supplants”, later called Israel, that is to say “strong against God”, designates the true ancestor of the Jewish people (See Jacob’s battle) whereas Esau, whose name signifies “the hairy one”, represents all human faults.

Jacob is the man of cunning but his cleverness would be of no use if he were not, above all, the one whom God has preferred to Esau, the one to whom God renews the promises made to his grand-father Abraham.










Isaac sitting in Bed blesses Jacob; Rebecca instructs Jacob and bids him to fetch two young Goats; 1332; illuminated miniature; manuscript MMW 10 B 21 15r; Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague

 Museum Meermanno


Rebecca always plays a role in the scene; she pushes young Jacob so that his father should recognize him by feeling his arm, or insists so that he should bless him.


Jacob receives Isaac’s Blessing; Jusepe de RIBERA; 1637; oil on canvas; Museo del Prado, Madrid

Web Gallery of Art



Isaac blessing Jacob; Govert FLINCK; 1639; Oil on canvas; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Web Gallery of Art


Esau has been hunting and he brings back some venison to satisfy his father who is to bless him. While Jacob is not yet blessed, his arrival becomes dramatic; that is why Rebecca becomes the central character, linking the two moments of the scene.




Isaac blesses Jacob; Julius Schnorr von CAROLSFELD; 1851-1860, engraving from “Bibel in Bildern”.




Isaac blesses Jacob; RAPHAEL; 1518-20; fresco; Raphael’s Loggia, Vatican Palace

Christus Rex






The Father’s benediction with his right hand either put on the head of the one that is to be blessed, or raised above him, has remained a strong sign that is still used at solemn moments.

The patriarch's benediction  for the New year. Québec 



The question of brotherly rivalry, already encountered with Cain and Abel, is reinforced in the case of twins.

Twins are often presented as doubles that can be substituted for each other. This is what makes Alexandre Dumas believe, in the Mask of Iron, that Louis XIV had a twin brother, a sort of double who could substitute himself for the king. Another famous rivalry is that of Romulus and Remus; the former founded Rome and killed his brother.

For Esau and Jacob, physical and moral differences are well-known but this does not prevent their rivalry, and this, as soon as they are in their mother’s womb.

The question of birthright is capital in patriarchal societies. The elder son becomes the patriarch, and the elder girl must be married first… But, in the case of twins who is the elder? In the Bible, he is the first one coming out of the mother’s womb whereas in our civilisation, he is the last one, because he was conceived first.


a cinema poster


Is the preference for a child over another one moral?

In biblical narratives, such preference seems frequent: Rebecca prefers her younger son Jacob, and in his turn, the latter prefers his younger grand-son Ephraim…and, in order to succeed, cunning seems justified. Should one see in it a victory of the younger over the elder, of the weaker one over the stronger one, or a victory of free choice? With Jacob, cunning wins since he “exchanges his birthright against a dish of lentils” offered to Esau. The expression has remained and if it does not justify Jacob’s conduct, it does not, for all that, take Esau’s side



Esau selling his birthright to Jacob;
REMBRANDT; 1645, drawing;
British Museum Londres




BIBLE PICTURES   © Serge Ceruti and Gérard  Dufour 2008