oil painting of man with tunic and shovel over shoulder

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664)
Naphtali, ca. 1640–45
Oil on canvas
78 1/2 x 40 5/8 in. (199.4 x 103.2 cm)
Auckland Castle, County Durham, UK, courtesy Auckland Castle Trust/Zurbarán Trust
© The Auckland Project/Zurbarán Trust; photo Robert LaPrelle

Naphtali is a doe let loose
that bears lovely fawns.

“The Blessings of Jacob” (Genesis 49:21)

Like Issachar, this statuesque figure is depicted in the humble clothing of a laborer. Barefoot, he wears a voluminous brown robe and red undergarment, with a red cap over his abundant dark hair. The son of Jacob and Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid, Naphtali is equated in Jacob’s blessing with “a doe let loose.” Zurbarán, however, chose to ignore this reference, depicting him instead as a farm worker rooted to the earth, with a muscular physique and a spade to tote over his shoulder. For Naphtali’s pose, costume, and attribute, Zurbarán turned directly to the figure of Christ in Albrecht Dürer’s Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene from his Small Passion series of woodcuts. The water in the background of Zurbarán’s painting may relate to the words of the prophet Isaiah in the Gospel of Matthew: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matthew 4:15).

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