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The Desparture of Abraham for Canaan

Jacopo da Ponte (called Jacopo Bassano);
Francesco da Ponte (called Francesco Bassano)

The Departure of Abraham for Canaan, c. 1570-71
oil on canvas
191 x 257 cm
Gift of Michal and Renata Hornstein, Montreal, 1997, in honour of Shirley L. Thomson

This grandiose, late-Renaissance painting is a collaborative work by the most prominent members of a dynasty of painters who came from the town of Bassano del Grappa on the Venetian mainland. In his maturity, Jacopo Bassano began to paint genre pictures with Old Testament subjects of migration, which proved immensely popular in a society that had been forced to adapt from being a maritime power to becoming an agrarian one. Hitherto such subjects had been rare in Italian painting, although they figure in the 13th-century mosaics in the atrium of St. Mark's. The fact that Venice was an early centre of publishing would also have favoured interest in such subjects, possibly encouraged by such publications as Pietro Aretino's translation into Italian of the Book of Genesis, current editions of Virgil's Georgics, and the poem Arcadia by the contemporary humanist Sannazzaro, which favoured the development of a pastoral landscape tradition in the Veneto.

The animals and objects featured so prominently - the flock of sheep, spotted hunting dog, copper pots, Turkish ceramics, and striped fabrics - would all have been familiar sights to the artist and his audience. As the demand for such scenes grew, Jacopo involved members of his family in their production, and by 1570 it would appear that he entrusted his son Francesco to lay in the composition. Evidence of Jacopo's hand can be found in the brilliant and deft touches of colour in the iridescent pink and pale blue drapery of the woman on the left, the vibrant copper tones of pots in the foreground, and the figures of Abraham immediately behind and God above.

The scale of the painting suggests it was made for the androne, or entrance hall, of a Venetian palace or country villa. First recorded in the mid-nineteenth century in the important collection of the Duke of Hamilton, the painting is in a fine state of preservation and adds to the European collection an Italian work with genre and still-life elements not otherwise represented.