Scala/Art Resource, NY

An angel of the Lord intercedes just as Abraham is set to strike Isaac with his knife. This bronze relief by Filippo Brunelleschi (1377–1446) 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 lower half of the relief, Abraham’s two attendants bide their time with the ass; one man, at right, tends to his feet, weary from the three-day journey, while the other removes a thorn from his bare foot. The ram, idly scratching behind his ear, will soon take Isaac’s place on the altar.

A Florentine architect and reviver of the classical style, Brunelleschi 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.