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The Offering of Isaac: C.956-1928

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Object information

Current Location: Gallery 27 (Glaisher)


The Offering of Isaac


Production: Unidentified factory
John Walton (Possibly)




Earthenware, moulded and modelled, lead glazed and painted with polychrome enamels.

Press moulded earthenware figure group with modelled and applied additions. Abraham stands in front of a tree, his right hand held high and holding a knife. Isaac is laid, bound, on a brick altar to his left. There is an angel in a tree behind, his gown swirling above his head as if he has just arrived. In front of Abraham is a burning lamp and by his right foot a small ram, across the brown earth in front ‘ABRAHAM OFFERING HIS SON ISAAC’ is incised on a white ribbon. Abraham wears a green gown, with brown spots, under a long yellow waistcoat decorated with dots and crosses and a flowing brown jacket which lifts under his raised arm to display its blue lining; his figure dominates the group. The scene is set on a high moulded plinth which is decorated with applied floral decoration above a blue band. The back is flattened, but shaped and painted. The underside is deeply recessed, with a central vent hole.


History note: Bought at a sale in Saffron Walden by Mr Jolley, Bridge Street, Cambridge. Bought from Mr Jolley on 27 January 1910, for £2. 10s (two pounds ten shillings), by Dr J.W.L. Glaisher, Trinity College, Cambridge.

Legal notes

Dr J.W.L. Glaisher Bequest, 1928

Measurements and weight

Height: 37.4 cm

Place(s) associated

  • Burslem ⪼ Staffordshire ⪼ England

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Bequeathed (1928) by Glaisher, J. W. L., Dr


19th Century, Early#
Circa 1825 CE - Circa 1830 CE


Bocage figure groups, which feature stylised leafy trees, are often associated with John Walton of Burslem, who is listed in local directories from c.1818-1835. Although Rackham, 1935, suggests this attribution, the distinctive base here does not seem typical and we now know that several potters made figure groups in this style, often copying designs and other features.

Dr Glaisher bought this figure because it was and ‘so extraordinary that the angel should not have been broken off’ and ‘a striking piece [… ] a good specimen of its kind’. However, he also felt ‘colouring is bright but crude and disagreeable and modelling is poor’.

Earthenware figure groups were popular from around 1810, although the earliest examples date from nearly a century before. They were produced by many small potteries and very few are marked. Classical or literary subjects might be copied from more expensive porcelain examples, but scenes from everyday life and topical events were also increasingly popular. These early figure groups are often complex, with modelled and moulded parts and applied decoration; the backs, though flat, are decorated. As demand increased, processes were streamlined to allow cheaper mass production and by the mid 1830s the earlier methods had largely given way to three-part press-moulding. The modelling and colours of this group suggest it dates from towards the end of the earlier period.

The Bible tells that God tested Abraham’s faith by asking him to sacrifice his son. Abraham bound Isaac and raised his knife to kill him. When God saw Abraham had obeyed, He sent an angel to tell him to stop and a ram to sacrifice instead (ref. Genesis 21).

People, subjects and objects depicted

Components of the work

Decoration composed of enamels lead-glaze
Base Depth 12.5 cm Width 18.5 cm

Materials used in production

White earthenware

Techniques used in production

Moulding : Earthenware, moulded and modelled, lead glazed and painted with enamels.

Inscription or legends present

  • Type: No visible mark
  • Location: Banner on front of base
  • Method of creation: Incised
  • Type: Title
  • Text: No.3180. Staffordshire group of Abraham sacrificing Isaac b. in Cambridge Jan 27 1910.
  • Location: Underside of base
  • Method of creation: Rectangular paper label handwritten in black ink
  • Type: Label

References and bibliographic entries

Identification numbers

Accession number: C.956-1928
Primary reference Number: 76448
Old object number: 3180
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Wednesday 15 July 2020 Last processed: Thursday 7 December 2023

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Applied Arts

Citation for print

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The Fitzwilliam Museum (2024) "The Offering of Isaac" Web page available at: Accessed: 2024-06-17 08:23:34

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{{cite web|url= |title=The Offering of Isaac |author=The Fitzwilliam Museum|accessdate=2024-06-17 08:23:34|publisher=The University of Cambridge}}

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