Conservation of this work was made possible by the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Art Conservation Project
This monumental painting was in the seventeenth-century collection of Cardinal Ascanio Filomarino, who had risen to prominence in Rome in Cardinal Barberini’s circle and became Archbishop of Naples in 1641. Filomarino was sensitive to the most advanced currents in Roman painting as seen here with the Caravaggism, owning twelve Vouets, paintings by Annibale Carracci, the Domenichino, Giovanni Lanfranco and Guido Reni, and this painting. Valentin transforms the theatricality of Caravaggio’s celebrated earlier version depicting a screaming Isaac and an angel rushing in to stop the hand of a stern Abraham (Uffizi, Florence) into a poignant image representing the passive acceptance of Isaac and the sad resignation of Abraham to the abhorrent act he is prepared to enact but compassionately interrupted from committing by a descending angel. For Christians, such as Cardinal Filomarino, the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son prefigured that of God in the sacrificial death of Christ. The picture is among the artist’s three surviving unfinished works and dates to about 1631.