Jacob the Patriarch
The Iconography

Jacob appears mostly in series of narrative images from the Old Testament example, especially the story of his son Joseph. There is no particular iconography or attribute associated with him, except that in the Joseph story he is old and in his own stories he is young. (On this site, see Joseph's page and the Old Testament mosaics in Santa Maria Maggiore).

Among the events in Jacob's own story one of the most frequently pictured is the ruse by which he gains his father's blessing (shown above, see Genesis 27:1-40). Another is his dream, in Genesis 28:10-15, of angels ascending and descending a scala standing on the ground with its summit in Heaven. The Latin scala can refer to either a ladder, as pictured in this example or a staircase, as in the first picture at right). In the dream God tells Jacob, "the land, wherein thou sleepest, I will give to thee and to thy seed."

Yet another event that one finds from time to time is Jacob's wrestling with an angel (as in this example, see Genesis 32:22-32).

Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2019-03-07.

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SHOWN ABOVE:
Panel from the Old Testament frescoes at Pomposa Abbey, Codigoro, Italy. (See the description page.)

OTHER IMAGES

Tintoretto's painting of Jacob's dream pictures a stairway rather than a ladder and associates it with the Ascension of Christ. (See the description page.)

A rare portrait of Jacob among the prophets and patriarchs in the coffered ceiling at Santa Maria dei Miracoli, Venice. See the description page.

MORE IMAGES

  • 5th century (mostly): Mosaics 6-14 in the Old Testament series at Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome.
  • 1441-43: An inset in Fra Angelico's Crucifixion presents Jacob's predictions about his son Judah (Genesis 49:8-10) as a prophecy of Christ.
  • 17th century: Jacob's Ruse, by Domenico Marolì.
  • 1807-13: A marble relief of Jacob's dream of the ladder on the west faç'ade of Milan's cathedral.

NAMES

  • Jacob receives the name Israel after wrestling with the angel (Genesis 32:29).

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