Jacob Wrestles with the Angel

Nave, Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome

This is part of the extensive series of Old Testament scenes portrayed in mosaics along the two walls of the nave at Santa Maria Maggiore. The original nave mosaics are from the 5th century, but some appear to be from a later date, including this one illustrating Genesis 32. It seems more "modern" than most of the other panels because of the attention to perspective, the modeling of the faces, and the unity of the composition into a single chronological flow.

In the beginning of the narrative, Jacob sends servants ahead with gifts for Esau including hundreds of farm animals (Genesis 32:14-22). The servants and their horses are in the upper left of the mosaic, the flocks in the upper right. Then Jacob crosses "the ford of Jaboc," the blue band in the mosaic, with his wives, handmaids, and sons (Genesis 32:22). Two of the latter sit in the lower left with their satchels.

Finally, Jacob goes off alone and a man wrestles with him all night long (Genesis 32:23-30), as pictured in the lower right. The context makes it clear that the man was a messenger from God, so the mosaic pictures him as with the wings of an angel.

To view the entire sequence of panels please follow this link.
Read more about images of Jacob.

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