With his face in shadow, hiding his mixed emotions, the Old Testament patriarch Abraham raises his sword to kill his own son Isaac, bound and also masked in shadow on an altar to the right. God had ordered the sacrifice to test Abraham's faith. But before he could use the weapon, an angel appeared and stopped him, declaring that he had proven his faithfulness to God.
Domenico Beccafumi captured the most dramatic moment in the story as a preparatory study for the pavement of the cathedral of Siena in 1547. Although a number of minor differences exist between the drawing and the pavement, this sketch established Abraham's basic pose and gesture. Beccafumi used broad applications of wash to hide his face, indicating where the darker areas were to be on the pavement.