Page 67 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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HEYD / ISAAC ’S SACRIFICE
61
relationship between father and son is ambiguous. On the one
hand, Abraham is supporting his son’s head, hugging it and
perhaps kissing it (his mouth is covered by Isaac’s head). On the
other, he is holding the slaughterer’s knife and his hands are
wrapped around Isaac’s neck as though he were strangling or
suffocating him. Abraham is, therefore, both supporting and
killing, kissing and strangling. The protective hand is intertwined
with the aggressive one.
This brings us back to the absence of the ram; the branch of the
tree in the background is reminiscent of a ram ’s horn (
shofar
),
which could be taken as a substitute for the ram. The knife is
pointing in that direction, and yet Abraham is not looking that
way; he is not aware of the substitution. Is the horrific act going to
occur? What is the meaning of Abraham’s stare? Pann’s litho­
graph yields three possible interpretations. According to the first,
despite the quotation, Abraham is lamenting over his slain son.
The second possibility is that Abraham is aware at this moment
that he is going to slaughter his son. There is no angel; we have no
clue as to the “happy end.” The third possible interpretation is
that Pann, being a modern artist, does not need an angel. Abra­
ham is responding to an inner vision — not to an external force.
In his depiction of the
Expulsion from Eden
Pann also omits the
angel and shows only two desolate people expelling themselves by
the force of an internal feeling of sin. According to this interpre­
tation it is Abraham’s inner vision which will prevent the deed. In
both the
Expulsion from Eden
and the
Sacrifice o f Isaac
Pann is
faithful to his “credo”; he depicts his biblical heroes as “human
beings.” As Pann himself said in an interview in
The Jewish Daily
Post
(June 16, 1934): “I represent the characters of the Bible as the
Bible describes them, as men and women but not in any way as
supermen.” Pann’s picture is hardly a “panegyric of Abraham,
the hero of faith” (to use Kirkegaard’s expression). Abraham does
not display his traditional determination; ra ther he reflects
Isaac’s unseen expression of anguish.
OTHER INFLUENCES
But there is another source for the second picture, one of the
French Symbolist a r tis t Odilon R edon ’s illustra tion s for
Flaubert’s
La Tentation de Saint-Antoine
(1896), “She draws from
her bosom a sponge, perfectly black, and covers it with kisses.”