National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek Sir Peter Paul Rubens (artist)
Flemish, 1577 - 1640
The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek, c. 1626
oil on panel
overall: 65.5 x 82.4 cm (25 13/16 x 32 7/16 in.) framed: 96.8 x 113.4 cm (38 1/8 x 44 5/8 in.)
Gift of Syma Busiel
1958.4.1
Not on View
From the Tour: Sir Peter Paul Rubens
Object 6 of 8

Rubens served Albert and Isabella, the Spanish governors of the Netherlands, as both court artist and diplomat. Isabella commissioned Rubens to design twenty tapestries for the Convent of the Poor Clares in Madrid, where she had lived and studied as a girl. Woven in Brussels, the series—which is still in the convent (now a museum)—celebrated the Eucharist, the Christian sacrament that reenacts Jesus' transformation of bread and wine into his body and blood at the Last Supper.

This painting is a modello, or oil sketch, for one of the tapestries. It depicts the meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek (Genesis 14:1–20). Returning victorious from battle, Abraham is greeted by Melchizedek, high priest and king of Salem, who presents him with loaves of bread as attendants bring vessels of wine. Catholic theologians considered the scene to prefigure the Eucharist.

Rubens presents the narrative as though it appears on a tapestry itself. Cherubs carry the heavy, fringed fabric before an imposing architectural setting. On the right, two attendants seem to climb from a wine cellar. Are they real men standing in front of the tapestry, or images woven inside it? Such confounding illusion delighted baroque audiences.

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