Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens
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The Church Triumphant
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Peter Paul Rubens
The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek, ca. 1628
Oil on panel, 66 x 82.5 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Gift of Syma Busiel, 1958.4.1 (1506)


Catalog Entry by Peter C. Sutton

At the center of the scene the patriarch Abraham, returning from his victories over Cherdorlaomer, ascends the steps of a palace to meet Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem or Jerusalem, as described in Genesis 14:17-20. Melchizedek wears the golden, ermine-lined robes of a king as well as a red papal camauro adorned with a laurel wreath, while Abraham has military armor and attire inspired by antique examples and a general's short red mantle. Abraham receives two loaves of bread from Melchizedek, and the latter's retinue distributes additional bread to the helmeted legions with spears who follow their conquering general. Muscular servants at the right bring forth large vessels of wine and an additional basket of bread, while a page attends to the general's charger at the left. The scene is treated as a fictive tapestry held aloft by three putti and fastened with festoons of fruit to architecture consisting of an antique-styled architrave with a Doric column on the right. On the low proscenium in the foreground rests a sculpted base decorated with winged cherub heads and festoons...


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