Jacob and Rachel

5th century, with medieval and modern restorations
Nave, Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome

This panel is part of the extensive series of Old Testament scenes along the two walls of the nave. It pictures Genesis 29:15-30, the story of Jacob's marriages to Leah and Rachel. Jacob wanted to marry Rachel and had to work for her father Laban for seven years to earn her hand, but then Laban told him he would have to marry Leah, the older sister, instead. So Jacob toiled another seven years and finally got Leah's hand.

There are two possible readings for the upper register. In one, Jacob would be rebuking Laban for not letting him marry Rachel after his first seven years of service (Genesis 29:25). In images of this period the raised hand usually signifies speech. In the other reading, Jacob would be saying he has completed his second seven years and is claiming Rachel (Genesis 29:26-28). In either case, the three standing at the door of Laban's house are Laban himself, Rachel (in red), and Leah (in blue).

The latter reading seems the more likely, since the right side of the lower register certainly pictures Laban giving Rachel to Jacob in marriage while Leah stands at her sister's back looking none too happy.

The left side of the lower register has Laban speaking with a man of middle age who is clearly not Jacob. No such conversation is recorded immediately before or after the marriage. Perhaps it is in some apocryphal source.

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Photographed at the basilica by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.