Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits


CORNELIS JACOBSZ. DELFF (Gouda 1570/1571 – Delft 1643)

Jacob’s Dream

signed C. J. Delff with the second and third initials conjoined in the lower left center

oil on canvas

37 5/8 x 61 13/16 inches          (95.6 x 157 cm.)


Sold to the Museum Prinsenhof Delft, Delft, The Netherlands


(Presumably) Joost van Adrichem, Burgomaster of Delft (1575 – 1653) until 1653

Mrs. Seddon, Hollywood, California

Mayfield School of the Holy Child Jesus, Pasadena, California, until 1980

Their sale, Sotheby Park Bernet, New York, June 4, 1980, lot 205, where purchased by

Private Collection, Texas, until 2016



(Presumably) Dr. A. Bredius, Künstler-Inventare Urkenden zur Geschichte der Holländischen Kunst des XVIten, XVIIten und XVIIIten Jarhunderts, volume IV, Otto Hirschmann, Haag, 1917, p. 1440

(Presumably) Unpublished notes of Dr. Cornelis Hofstede de Groot fiches, Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, The Hague, no. 1112163


This work depicts the story of Jacob’s Dream as described in the Book of Genesis chapter 28:10-19:

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for a night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the LORD stood beside him and said, “I am the LORD, the 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 like 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 all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place – and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.[1]

This stunning work is almost certainly one of five by Cornelis Jacobsz. Delff recorded in the 1653 inventory of Joost van Adrichem, the Burgomaster of Delft. The other works were a painting of Rebecca, Esau selling his Birthright to Jacob, The Blessing of Jacob, as well as a Kitchen Scene.[2] The four works depicting key events in the life of Jacob, from a portrayal of his mother Rebecca, until his last day ending with the blessing of his twelve sons who founded the twelve tribes of Israel, must have proved a moving spectacle for any visitor to the home of Joos van Adrichem. Interestingly Van Adrichem lived next door to Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt, whose house was called “Spangien” situated along the Oude Delft, a canal lined with mansions.[3] Mierevelt was the father-in-law of Delff’s brother the engraver Willem Jacobsz. Delff.

Delff’s father and first instructor was Jacob Willemsz. Delff the Elder who was mainly a portrait painter. He had another brother Rochus, who was also a portraitist. Delff next worked in Haarlem around 1595 for Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem. Cornelis along with Hendrick Goltzius and Karel van Mander, working together in Haarlem circa 1590, formed the wellspring of Dutch Mannerism. Influenced by the drawings of Bartholomeus Spranger that Van Mander had brought back from Vienna, the three embraced the complex compositional schemes and contorted figures these drawings depicted. They strove, above all else, to create an overwhelming visual feast in their works. As the decade progressed their output began to calm down with simplified compositions and more harmoniously proportioned figures. Against this changing backdrop of ideas and intent, Delff received his training. Prior to 1610 he returned to Delft where he would spend the rest of his days. As one of the first painters of still life, Delff became well known for his kitchen interiors which were rooted in the tradition of Joachim Beuckelaer and Pieter Aertsen. He is further thought to be the originator of a new type of kitchen still life, devoid of figures, that focused on shiny copper and brass vessels. Delff’s son Adrijaen Cornelisz. was also a painter. In 1637 Delff was commissioned to paint an overdoor of fruit for Prince Frederik’s palace in Rijswijk.[4] Museums that have works by the artist include Amsterdam; Budapest; Groningen; Haarlem; Minneapolis; Oxford; Richmond, Virginia; and Strasbourg.

Executed at the beginning of the seventeenth century, assuredly after Delff’s return home, Jacob’s Dream is a work that embraces the tenets of Mannerism as well as the early evocations of Dutch Classicism, which regarded clarity and sublimity as their ideals.[5] For example while it was the Mannerists who championed Old Testament heroes as subject matter, Jacob lies across the front of the pictorial space posed in a manner suggestive of nudes of antiquity. Eroticism was embraced by both movements. Propped against a rock, dressed in a short green tunic with a swirling red cloak, the sleeping Jacob’s powerful bare legs are on full display at the center of the foreground. The twirled leather of his sandals that encase his calves and ankles serve to further emphasize his exposed limbs. The trompe l’oeil effect of the upended water jug laying to the right of Jacob, is a display of the mastery achieved in Delff’s kitchen pieces, which made him famous. On the left side of the canvas, two angels converse at the base of the cloud covered heavenly ladder. These intentionally elongated figures, swathed in yellow and pink with protruding wings, are the most emphatic Mannerist elements of the composition. The whirling funnel of dark clouds and angels, from whose center divine light emanates, is both eye catching as well as an unusual pictorial interpretation of a key component in the story. This once more points to his Mannerist heritage. Bathed in light in the distant background, is the prophesied city of Bethel. Delff’s work is truly the realization of a dream; underscored by the diagonal that divides the canvas, using Classical ideals in the portrayal of the earthly elements, and Mannerist principles for the visionary, a perfect balance is achieved.



[1] Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy eds., The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Oxford University Press, New York, 1994, p. 36.

[2] Dr. A. Bredius, op. cit., p. 1440.

[3] A. Bredius, “Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt eene Nalezing,” in Oud-Holland, Amsterdam, 1908, p. 4.

[4] Biographical information taken from Thieme-Becker, “Cornelis Jacobsz. Delff” and “Adrijaen Cornelisz. Delff” in Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Kunstler, volume IX, Veb E. A. Seeman Verlag, Leipzig, 1913, p. 14; Wouter T. H. Kloek, “Northern Netherlandish Art 1580-1620, A Survey” in Dawn of the Golden Age, exhibition catalog, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1993, pp. 15-18, 23; Adriaan van der Willigen and Fred G. Meijer, “Cornelis Delff” in A Dictionary of Dutch and Flemish Still-Life Painters Working in Oils 1525-1725, Primavera Press, Leiden, 2003, p. 71; and Fred G. Meijer, “Cornelis Jacbosz. Delff” in The Ashmolean Museum Oxford, Dutch and Flemish Still-life Paintings, Waanders Publishers, Zwolle, 2003, p. 200.

[5] Albert Blankert, “Classicism in Dutch history painting” in Dutch Classicism, exhibition catalog, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1999, p. 15.

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