Scala/Art Resource

Genesis 22:1–19 recounts how God, in order to test Abraham, commanded him to take his only son Isaac to the land of Moriah and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. Abraham rose early the next morning, saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him. On the third day, Abraham saw the place God had indicated. He told his men to remain behind with the ass, saying only that he and the young lad were going to worship, not that he intended to sacrifice his son. When they came to the appointed place, Abraham built an altar, laid the wood, bound his son and lifted up the knife to slay him.

This bronze relief by Filippo Brunelleschi actually represents two events occurring at the same time in different places. On top, the artist depicts the moment when the angel of the Lord, upper left, calls out to Abraham to “lay not your hand upon the lad.”

In the scene in the lower half of the relief, Abraham’s two attendants bide time with the ass, which browses. One man, right, tends to his feet, weary from the three-day journey, while the other, left, removes a thorn from his bare foot. The ram, directly above, idly scratching behind his ear, will soon take Isaac’s place on the altar.

The Florentine architect and reviver of the classical style Filippo Brunelleschi (1377–1446) began his artistic training at his father’s bidding in the guild of goldsmiths. At age 24, he entered a competition to decorate the doors of the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence. Although he lost the competition to Lorenzo Ghiberti, his entry, reproduced here, was highly praised. It can be seen today in the Bargello Museum in Florence next to Ghiberti’s entry, a remarkably similar bronze model depicting the same scene. Both bronzes are in the distinctive quatrefoil shape.