oil painting depicting man holding basket of bread, with large staff

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664)
Asher, ca. 1640–45
Oil on canvas
79 1/4 x 40 15/16 in. (201.3 x 104 cm)
Auckland Castle, County Durham, UK, courtesy Auckland Castle Trust/Zurbarán Trust
© The Auckland Project/Zurbarán Trust; photo Robert LaPrelle

Asher’s food shall be rich,
and he shall provide royal delicacies.

“The Blessings of Jacob” (Genesis 49:20)

Attired in the finest regalia, the prosperous farmer Asher was the son of Jacob and Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid. In Zurbarán’s painting, the overflowing basket of bread in Asher’s hands refers to the “royal delicacies” in the blessing and showcases the artist’s extraordinary skill in the genre of still life. Asher’s association with bread in biblical literature led the sixth-century Spanish theologian Isidore of Seville to interpret him as a prefiguration of Christ, who in the Eucharist becomes bread for the faithful. Asher’s staff bisects the canvas, introducing a dynamic element into an otherwise static composition. Recent technical analysis revealed that the landscape in Asher — as well as that in Issachar, both of which are of particularly high quality — was most likely painted by Zurbarán himself as a model for his assistants to follow in the other works in the series.

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