Jacob Epstein: Jacob and the angel in alabaster

I visited the New Tate in London some years ago.

And 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:

The 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 ...