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Govert Flinck, Dutch, 1615-1660: The Sacrifice of Manoah, c. 1640-50 

In the Old Tes­ta­ment book of Judges (13: 1-20), Manoah and his wife learn from an uniden­ti­fied fig­ure that they will con­ceive a child, the great hero Sam­son. Govert Flinck, who stud­ied with Rem­brandt in the 1630s, depicts the moment in the story when the mes­sen­ger reveals him­self as an angel, ris­ing from the flames of their burnt offer­ing. Manoah, with his head in his hands, his wife, and their two atten­dants look on with aston­ish­ment and reverence. 

Flinck like­ly made this draw­ing short­ly after his 1640 paint­ing of the sub­ject, now in the Bader Col­lec­tion in Ontario, which was large­ly inspired by Rem­brandt’s own draw­ing of sev­er­al years ear­li­er. Flinck sub­se­quent­ly used the Peck sheet as a basis for a more fin­ished com­po­si­tion of the scene in black chalk (Cour­tauld Gallery, Lon­don), demon­strat­ing his con­tin­ued engage­ment with the story dur­ing the 1640s.

When this pre­vi­ous­ly unpub­lished draw­ing by Govert Flinck entered the Ackland’s col­lec­tion, the sub­ject was thought to be the angel Raphael depart­ing from the fam­i­ly of Tobias, a scene from the apoc­ryphal Book of Tobit that was pop­u­lar with Dutch artists at the time.1

Rem­brandt (1606 – 1669) made an etch­ing of the sub­ject in 1641 that indeed bears a cer­tain amount of com­po­si­tion­al sim­i­lar­i­ty with the present work Fig. 19.1.2

Rembrandt, The Angel Departing from the Family of Tobias
Fig. 19.1

Rem­brandt, The Angel Depart­ing from the Fam­i­ly of Tobias, 1641. Etch­ing on paper, 104 × 153 mm. Ams­ter­dam, Rijksmu­se­um, inv. no. rp-p-ob-83.

Depict­ed here, how­ev­er, is the Sac­ri­fice of Manoah from Judges 13:1 – 20. The story relates how an angel like­wise sud­den­ly revealed his divine aspect and ascends to the heav­ens while spec­ta­tors react in var­i­ous states of awe. The unnamed angel proph­e­sied the birth of the great hero Sam­son by telling Manoah’s child­less wife that she would bear a son who would deliv­er the Israelites from the occu­py­ing Philistines. Manoah made a burnt offer­ing in cel­e­bra­tion of the news, at which point the angel revealed his true nature by ris­ing with the flames from the offer­ing. The smok­ing altar in the present work makes its true sub­ject clear, as does the fore­ground­ing of Manoah and his wife. Depic­tions of Raphael depart­ing from the fam­i­ly of Tobias, on the other hand, always show the two male fig­ures of Tobit and Tobias kneel­ing before the van­ish­ing angel. Unusu­al here are the two uniden­ti­fied atten­dants (prob­a­bly both female) stand­ing behind Manoah and his wife, who do not fea­ture in the bib­li­cal nar­ra­tive. Their pres­ence might be relat­ed to the artist’s desire to reca­pit­u­late some of the com­po­si­tion­al com­plex­i­ty of the pyra­mi­dal multi-fig­ure group in Rembrandt’s etch­ing, which pos­si­bly served as a source of inspi­ra­tion for this dif­fer­ent but relat­ed subject.

One of Rembrandt’s two known treat­ments of the Sac­ri­fice of Manoah can be found in a rapid, bril­liant sketch in Berlin from around 1635 to 1638, a peri­od that includes the one-year span around 1636 that Flinck is thought to have stud­ied with the mas­ter Fig. 19.2.3

Rembrandt, The Sacrifice of Manoah
Fig. 19.2

Rem­brandt, The Sac­ri­fice of Manoah, c. 1635 – 38. Pen in brown ink on paper, 174 × 190 mm. Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, inv. no. KdZ 3774.

It clear­ly proved inspi­ra­tional for Flinck’s signed and dated paint­ing from 1640 in the Bader Col­lec­tion, in which he took the poses of all three fig­ures (with slight adap­ta­tions) of Manoah, his wife, and the angel from Rembrandt’s draw­ing 19.3.4

Govert Flinck, The Sacrifice of Manoah
Fig. 19.3

Govert Flinck, The Sac­ri­fice of Manoah, 1640. Oil on can­vas, 74.3 × 123.8 cm. Kingston (Ontario), Agnes Ether­ing­ton Art Cen­tre, Queen’s Uni­ver­si­ty, inv. no. 18-114.

Flinck like­ly made the Peck draw­ing short­ly there­after. He altered the com­po­si­tion fur­ther, most sig­nif­i­cant­ly by rotat­ing the angel to face the view­er. Sim­i­lar in both Flinck’s paint­ing and the present draw­ing is Manoah’s reflex­ive turn­ing away from the divine being, bring­ing up his hand to cover his face in the process. His wife, by con­trast, faces the angel more direct­ly in both works.

In his unpub­lished notes on the Peck draw­ing, Wern­er Sumows­ki remarked that Flinck used it for his fin­ished black chalk draw­ing of the Sac­ri­fice of Manoah in the Cour­tauld Gallery, Lon­don Fig. 19.4.5

Govert Flinck, The Sacrifice of Manoah
Fig. 19.4

Govert Flinck, The Sac­ri­fice of Manoah, c. 1642. Black chalk on paper, 201 × 262 mm. Lon­don, Cour­tauld Gallery, inv. no.

The angel with out­stretched arms indeed appears sim­i­lar in pose and aspect, though viewed from a dif­fer­ent angle. Sumows­ki sug­gest­ed a date of circa 1642 for the Courtauld’s chalk draw­ing, which accords well with a date in the early 1640s for the present work based on the style of Flinck’s pen draw­ings in these years, often dis­play­ing a dis­tinct­ly liq­uid and curvi­lin­ear man­ner with seem­ing­ly effort­less vari­a­tions of line thick­ness. One sees this approach in the drap­ery of the left­most atten­dant and in the flow­ing robes of the angel. Sim­i­lar pen work can be observed in Flinck’s draw­ing of a Sleep­ing Child in the Fon­da­tion Cus­to­dia, Paris, signed and dated 1643.6

End Notes

  1. Tobit 12:15 – 22 .

  2. New Holl­stein (Rem­brandt), no. 189; and Bartsch, no. 43.

  3. Schat­born & Hin­ter­d­ing 2019, 52, no. D34; and Bev­ers 2006, 71 – 74, no. 15. For Rembrandt’s later draw­ing of the Sac­ri­fice of Manoah, c. 1652 (Paris, Fon­da­tion Cus­to­dia, inv. no. 5803), see Schat­born & Hin­ter­d­ing 2019, 108, no. D119; and Schat­born 2010, vol. 1, 73 – 76, vol. 2, 29, no. 18.

  4. De Witt 2008, 132 – 33, no. 76; and P. C. Sut­ton in Mel­bourne & Can­ber­ra 1997 – 98, 238 – 39, no. 42.

  5. For the draw­ing in the Cour­tauld, see Sumows­ki Draw­ings, vol. 4, 1982 – 83, no. 909x . Sumows­ki accept­ed the Peck draw­ing as a work by Govert Flinck in his unpub­lished notes (Muse­um het Rem­brandthuis, Ams­ter­dam) relat­ed to his planned adden­da vol­ume for his Draw­ings of the Rem­brandt School, where it is cat­a­logued as no. 2995x. Aside from its rela­tion­ship to the Courtauld’s draw­ing, he also noted a cor­re­spond­ing angel in a draw­ing of the Sac­ri­fice of Manoah (Benesch, no. 179; Musée du Lou­vre, Paris), for­mer­ly con­sid­ered a work by Rem­brandt; reject­ed in Schat­born & Hin­ter­d­ing 2019.

  6. Sumows­ki Draw­ings, vol. 4, 1982 – 83, no. 865; and Schat­born 2010, vol. 1, 208 – 09, vol. 2, 94, no. 80.