The Dream of Jacob; Domenico FETTI; c. 1618-20; oil on poplar; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

Kuntshistoriches  Museum Wien

Jacob' dream

Unerstand the scene

What you can see in this picture……

Jacob is sleeping and dreaming or he has a vision.

Jacob is in the dark, lying on the ground with his head resting on a stone. The angels are in full light; they are rather numerous, in an oblique line and climbing up a ladder raised towards the heaven.

At the top, God appears but in a discreet manner without seeming to speak to Jacob.


...and in other pictures

The angels are more or less numerous but they are of all sizes and shapes; they go up or down the ladder.

In the Middle-Ages, the ladder had some great importance for it symbolized the virtues. In a small picture, it can be painted by itself without any angel though it refers to this scene. In the Renaissance, Raphael replaced the ladder, judged too vulgar, by stairs.

The biblical narrative

The Book of Genesis, chapter 28  

 Jacob has gone on a journey to get married. During one night as he is having a rest with his head lying on a stone, he has a dream or a vision.

And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said : "J am the LORD God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac: the land on which you lie, I will give to you, and to your offspring;
And your offspring shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south"…

 And Jacob awoke out of his sleep, and he said: "Surely the LORD is in this place; and I did not know it !" And he was afraid, and said: "How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven ! (Genesis 28:12-17)



This narrative and that of his fight (See Jacob’s Fight) mark Jacob’s exceptional destiny. Through the dream God renews to him the promise made to Abraham. He will have a good land and a numerous offspring. Through the fight, God designates him as “strong”, he recognizes him as a fighter, the one who triumphs over men and over God, not thanks to his innate gifts but thanks to his tenacity and his will.

The prophet Hosea brings together the two scenes : "He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God: Yes, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication to him: he found him in Beth-el, and there he spoke to us." (Hosea 12, 4-5)



See similar pictures


The classical vision of the ladder which the angels are climbing is taken up again by Chagall, whereas Raphael replaces the ladder by stairs, the heaven opens wider.


The Dream of Jacob; Marc CHAGALL; 1960-66; oil on canvas; Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall, Nice, France.




Jacob’s Dream; RAPHAEL; 1518; fresco; Raphael’s loggia; Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican

Web Gallery of Art


In these two pictures, the dream is put forward but, hardly visible in Elsheimer, it pierces the vault in Tiepolo.


The Dream of Jacob; Adam ELSHEIMER; c. 1600; oil on copper; Städelches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, Germany.

 Web Gallery of Art



The Dream of Jacob; Giovanni TIEPOLO; 1726-29 fresco; Palazzo Patriarcale, Udino, Italy

Web Gallery of Art



Further developpements





The Greek word “angelos” is the translation of the Hebrew “messenger” which designates a mere function and not a particular nature.

Angels link the world of God to that of men. They appear in the Bible as spiritual beings created by God with an intelligence superior to that of men. They are portrayed either as good-looking young men with large wings, or small chubby children after the manner of putti or little antique Cupids. Their importance in art and literature will continue to grow together with theiranges.JPG (158218 octets) number.

But when the presence of God is mentioned in the Bible, he is often figured by an angel, “the Lord’s Angel”, who is quite different from the previous creatures.

altarpiece, Church of Valloire, France   




© Copyright 2005-2016 - Serge Ceruti / Mentions Légales / Site réalisé par eyenet