Romantic Circles Gallery
Abraham and the Angels
Abraham kneels on a flat plain before three winged angels who stand conversing among themselves. Some hills and trees stand in the distance, and the sky is furrowed with thick, wavy lines that suggest clouds and blowing wind.
Copyright 2009, Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin-Madison
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This image was one in a series of woodcuts (1782).
Skippe published two collections of woodcuts, one in 1782 and one in 1783, and a political print. In 1784, he turned to painting, a more financially lucrative career (Burch).
J.B. Malchair (1731-1812) and Matthew William Peters (1742-1814)
John Skippe (c.1741-1811) was taught by Malchair, a German and English painter and printmaker, and Peters, an English painter and clergyman (Harrison 14; Manners 2).
Antonio Maria Zanetti (1680-1757)
Skippe’s woodcuts were done in the style of Zanetti, an Italian artist (James 27).
Skippe was influenced by many schools and styles of art, especially those of Italy (Burch 78).
Skippe’s two series of woodcuts (1782 and 1783) contained images portraying similar Biblical themes (Burch 78).
This woodcut, depicting Abraham's encounter with the three angels, dwells on divine benevolence and Abraham's humility. More generally, the image attests to the Romantic interest in narratives that posited miracles and mythical beings as existing in the real world.
John Skippe was better known as a collector than as an artist, and he is generally considered an amateur with regard to both his woodcuts and his later paintings (Burch 78). However, he did introduce an old Italian tradition into the world of Romantic Britain, creating this particular woodcut in the style of Antonio Maria Zanetti. His work shows how Romantic art depended on a long history of sources—of Renaissance artists, their Medieval predecessors, and the ancient authors of the Bible from whom they drew inspiration. Furthermore, this work demonstrates the Romantic interest in the existence of miracles, the question of which emerged out of the debates of such Enlightenment thinkers as Hume. Artists would often look back to a time when miracles were, if not commonplace, at least unchallenged in their reality. As visual technology progressed and viewers' ability to deduce the mechanisms behind spectacles decreased, audiences may have looked back to an older, less rational way of thinking in order to augment the pleasurable suspension of their disbelief (McCalman 187-88).
Burch, R. M., and William Gamble. Colour Printing and Colour Printers. 2nd ed. London: Pitman, 1910. Print.
Harrison, Colin. John Malchair of Oxford: Artist and Musician. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1998. Print.
James, Carlo, et al. Old Master Prints and Drawings: a Guide to Preservation and Conservation. Trans. and ed. Marjorie B. Cohn. Illustrated ed. Amsterdam: Amsterdam UP, 1997. Print.
Manners, Victoria. Matthew William Peters, R.A.: His Life and Work. London: The Connoisseur, 1913. Print.
McCalman, Iain. Sensation & Sensibility: Viewing Gainsborough's Cottage Door. Ed. Ann Bermingham. New Haven: Yale Center for British Art, 2005. Print.
Simpson, William, and Martin Desmond Jones. Europe, 1783-1914. Illustrated and revised ed. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.
John Skippe, Abraham and the Angels, n.d., Color woodcut, 19.05 cm x 19.05 cm
(7.5 in. x 7.5 in.), Carolyn T. Anderson Endowment Fund purchase, 1995.51