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Jacob Confronting Laban

Jacob Confronting Laban, c. 1667-68

Jan Steen
Dutch, c.1626-1679
Oil on panel
18-3/4 x 23-1/4 in. (47.6 x 59.1 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
© The Norton Simon Foundation

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The story of Jacob and Laban is told in the Book of Genesis and recounts an unusual love story. The youthful Jacob had contracted to work for Laban for seven years in return for the hand of his youngest daughter Rachel. On their wedding night, Laban switched Jacob’s betrothed for his eldest daughter Leah. Through gesture, expression and a sophisticated mise-en-scene, Steen portrays the dramatic moment of surprise when Jacob discovers the Laban has deceived him. The younger woman in the bed is Leah whom Jacob married the night before. Her handmaid Zilpah kneels before her proffering a bowl of water. To the left stands Rachel, while Laban is obliged to explain the deceit to a beseeching and agitated Jacob. Celebrants from the wedding night’s festivities give context and a bit of levity to the scene. The rich, theatrical setting and lush appointments of the bedroom set the scene in the historical past, a device that Steen may have adopted from contemporary Dutch theatre.

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