Encounter with an Art Work:
Tate Britain, 21/12/08.
'Jacob and the Angel'-Jacob Epstein.
This alabaster sculpture depicts two monumental standing figures placed on a pedestal. The rectangular form of the stone it was carved from is obvious.
One of the first things that struck me was the solidity of the piece. The figures are larger than lifesize and of squat build. The Angel is the taller of the two. I think of angels as celestial and ethereal, but Epstein's Angel is very strong and grounded.
Jacob and the Angel have been locked in a furious struggle. Epstein shows us the moment the confrontation ends, and Jacob yields. Jacob`s knees seem to have buckled and the Angel has caught him as he collapses, clasping Jacob to his chest. Jacob's face is upturned, gazing beyond the angel, whose face in turn Jacob partially obscures from the veiwer. His visible features are powerful. The angel's wings spread out behind him and his long hair flows back against them. Even though we can't see the facial expressions clearly, it is a very strong piece. There is a powerful emotional and physical connection between the two protagonists. The figures, though solid, are dynamic and inseperable- almost as one.
Epstein based the sculpture on a story from the Old Testament. The Angel and Jacob have been engaged in a great struggle and Jacob only yields after the angel dislocates his thigh. Then he blesses Jacob. Epstein made the Work in 1940 to 1941, when Britain was standing alone and enduring air raids during World War Two. I think it works very well as a metaphor for the challenge the country was facing.