Jacob at Bethel by James Smetham (1821-1889). Oil on panel. H 11.3 x W 30.1 cm. Birmingham Museums Trust. Accession number: 1943P280. Acquisition method: bequeathed by Sir Arthur Newsholme, 1942. Kindly made available via Art UK on the Creative Commons Zero licence (CC0). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

According to the Bible, it was at this place that Jacob had dreamt of a ladder to heaven. In the morning, he set up the boulder on which he had been resting, anointed it with oil, decided to call the place Beth-el (the House of God), and went on with hope in his heart, saying, "If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house..." (Genesis 28, 20-22). Jacob is seen setting out from the spot on a wide open plain, as the day begins to disperse the darkness, with a lingering backward look at the stone marker. He waves as if in acknowledgement and farewell, as he strides towards the promised future. There are other travellers — a camel or two can be seen in the distance — but they follow a different route. Although small (just a bit more than even centimeters high), this is a very dynamic composition. — Jacqueline Banerjee

Created 22 June 2021