oil painting of young man holding staff at hip and a leash attached to a dog

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664)
Benjamin, ca. 1640–45
Oil on canvas
78 3/8 x 40 1/2 in. (199.2 x 103 cm)
The Grimsthorpe & Drummond Castle Trust
© Grimsthorpe and Drummond Castle Trust; photo Robert LaPrelle

Benjamin is a ravenous wolf,
in the morning devouring the prey,
and at evening dividing the spoil.

“The Blessings of Jacob” (Genesis 49:27)

Benjamin was the twelfth and youngest son of Jacob and the second son of Rachel, who died shortly after giving birth to him. Along with Joseph, Benjamin was especially loved by his father. In Zurbarán’s painting, Benjamin stands out for his active twisting pose, similar to Simeon’s, and informal rustic attire. His landscape is embellished with architectural ruins. The shoulder bag he carries alludes to an episode that took place in Egypt, as related in Genesis 44, when Joseph instructed his steward to slip a silver cup in Benjamin’s sack of grain and then accused him of stealing it. The ruse was a means of testing the brothers’ loyalty to their youngest sibling. The description of Benjamin in the blessing as “a ravenous wolf” has been interpreted as referring to his tribe’s reputation for ferocity in battle. The wolf is taken almost directly from Jacques de Gheyn II’s print of Benjamin, from the series The Twelve Sons of Jacob.

Zurbarán’s Benjamin and Grimsthorpe Castle

Grimsthorpe castle on great green lawn with blue sky aboveAll but one of the thirteen paintings in Jacob and His Twelve Sons are on loan from Auckland Castle in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, England, while the portrayal of the youngest son, Benjamin, comes from Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire. In 1756, Bishop Richard Trevor bought twelve of the works for Auckland Castle but was outbid by a London collector for Benjamin. This painting subsequently passed into the Willoughby de Eresby family and was hung at their residence, Grimsthorpe Castle. Thanks to the generosity of Lady Willoughby de Eresby, the Benjamin has been reunited with its brothers for both the Meadows and Frick presentations of the Zurbarán series.

Grimsthorpe Castle, Bourne, Lincolnshire, England.
Photo credit: Ray Biggs

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