oil painting depicting man in tunic, with sack on his back and a donkey

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664)
Issachar, ca. 1640–45
Oil on canvas
78 1/2 x 40 1/2 in. (199.4 x 102.9 cm)
Auckland Castle, County Durham, UK, courtesy Auckland Castle Trust/Zurbarán Trust
© The Auckland Project/Zurbarán Trust; photo Robert LaPrelle

Issachar is a strong donkey,
lying down between the sheepfolds;

he saw that a resting place was good,
and that the land was pleasant;
so he bowed his shoulder to the burden,
and became a slave at forced labor.

“The Blessings of Jacob” (Genesis 49:14–15)

The prophecy for Issachar — the ninth son of Jacob and Leah’s fifth — is relatively straightforward. Described as a “strong donkey,” he is destined for a life of labor. Zurbarán hews close to the biblical text, depicting Issachar in a crude brown robe that exposes his muscular legs. He is shown striding along the bank of a stream, his possessions tied up in a red knapsack on his back. The donkey appears as an awkwardly cropped head cutting in on the left side of the canvas, a detail taken from Jacques de Gheyn II’s print Issachar from the series The Twelve Sons of Jacob. The warm red of the knapsack and the slightly stooped posture of the figure connect this toiler of the land with Zurbarán’s depiction of Jacob. The simplicity of Issachar’s attire sets him off from his siblings, most of whom are arrayed in elaborate costumes.