Guercino, Italian, 1591-1666
Title: Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph
Date: c.1620
Medium: Oil on canvas
170 x 211.5 cm
Credit Line: Presented by Sir Denis Mahon to the British Fund for the National Gallery of Ireland, 2008
Object Number: NGI.4648
DescriptionIn Genesis (48:12), Joseph brought his two sons before his father Jacob to be blessed. The blind old man, without explanation, crossed his arms and blessed Ephraim, his younger grandson, with his right hand, thus favouring him over the first-born brother. In the picture, Jacob’s action is clearly expressed, as is the disbelief of Joseph and his elder son Manasseh. Jacob then prophesised the younger son would prove to be the greater man.
Guercino paid particular attention to the prophetic pose of Jacob’s hands in the sign of a cross. This was considered highly symbolic by the Catholic authorities because it was from the young boy’s descendants that Christ was born.
The artist, who had an eye condition known as strabismus was known throughout his life as Guercino (the squinter). Practically self-taught as a painter, he soon acquired an outstanding taste for colour and naturalism. Early paintings, like this, are characterised by tactile brushwork and rich tones. This picture was commissioned by Cardinal Jacopo Serra, Papal Legate in Ferrara. The title of knight was conferred upon the artist as a consequence of this and other works.

March 2016

ProvenanceCommissioned by Cardinal Jacopo Serra, Papal Legate of Ferrara, in 1620; after his death it passed to his successor, Cardinal Giulio Sacchetti; given by Sacchetti in 1646 to Don Juan Alfonso Enriquez de Cabrera, 9th Almirante de Castilla and former Viceroy of Naples, Spanish envoy to Pope Innocent X; recorded in the inventory of his collections in Madrid in 1647 when inherited by his son; following his death in 1691, donated to the Church of San Pascal Bailon, Madrid; removed from the church c. 1803 by Manuel Godoy Alvarez, Principe de la Paz and first minister of Spain; following Godoy's fall from power in March 1808 his collection was dispersed; collection of Lord Northwick, by 1843; auction, 1859, 2nd Lord Northwick sale; Hermann Voss, Paris, 1932; acquired from a Paris dealer in 1934 by Denis Mahon; placed on long-term loan to the National Gallery of Ireland by Sir Denis Mahon, 1997; presented by Sir Denis Mahon trough the British Fund for the National Gallery of Ireland, 2008
Exhibition HistoryItalian Art and Britain, Royal Academy, London, 1960

Il Guercino, Catalogo Critico dei Dipinti, Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio, Bologna, 1968

Guercino in Britain, Paintings from British Collections, National Gallery, London, 1991

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri: 'Il Guercino' 1591-1666, Pincoteca Nazionale, Bologna, 1991

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri: 'Il Guercino' 1591-1666, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt-am-Main, 1991-1992

Guercino, Master Painter of the Baroque, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992

A Scholar's Eye. Paintings from the Sir Denis Mahon Collection, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, 15 October 1997 - 31 January 1998

Discovering the Italian Baroque: The Denis Mahon Collection, Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, 18 April - 19 July 1998; Palazzo Ruspoli, Rome, 28 September 1998 - 15 January 1999

Taking Stock: Acquisitions 2000-2010, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, 13 March 2010 - 25 July 2010

Conservation and display, The J. Paul Getty Museum, California, 01 February 2016 - 18 February 2018