I visited the New Tate in London some years ago.
I entered a large room where there were large statues sculpted by the
Jewish sculptor Jacob Epstein in alabaster. Alabaster is a very strange
stone and Epstein used it several times for the Biblical figures - it
appears soft and translucent, it looks as if it would give a little when
you touch it, like flesh; it is translucent - you can look into its
depth, and this particular
alabaster was streaked with reddish, brownish veins as if someone had
removed the skin from a body.
This isn't actually a
story, more the retelling of an experience, for this statue took my
breath away. I didn't want to leave the room. None of the photos I have
seen reproduce this effect, I suspect because the statue is larger than
life, and represents a moment of great intensity:
angel and Jacob are bound in an intimate grip. The angel is taller,
unflustered and grave, his great wings folded flat against his back, so
that they remind me of the two tables of the law. The wings are higher
than his head and they reach down to his ankles. These wings are made
for flying, they appear strong enough to carry a great weight. The
angel's hair is thick and wavy, seeming to spring vigourously from his
head. His eyes are open, his face alert. He is peering straight into
Jacob's face, the two profiles are very close to each other, I imagine
their breath intermingling.
Epstein's work resembles
Rodin's - his people are thickset with short limbs, big thighs and
calves, enormous hands and feet - they evince a feeling of power. The
angel holds Jacob in a complete embrace, his arms go under his arms and
right round, his large hands are clasping Jacob's back, the right hand
facing the left on either side of his spine, in an exact symmetry and
Jacob is supported, almost hanging in this embrace, his arms appear
without strength and and his head is tipped back - it is an overwhelming
image, and during my online search, I found a mention of an Anglican
bishop who clearly experienced the sculpture in the same way ...