Jacob’s Ladder, 2008



Jacob’s Ladder
2360 x 8700 x 123 mm | 92.9 x 342.5 x 4.8 in
Glass, stainless steel, steel, aluminum, nickel, cork and entomological specimens
Image: Photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012


‘Jacob’s Ladder’ consists of a vast stainless-steel cabinet containing over 3,000 insect species, arranged in meticulous vertical rows according to breed. The title of the sculpture refers to the Biblical account of the Hebrew patriarch Jacob’s dream of a ladder leading towards Heaven – a frequently depicted scene in the Christian artistic tradition. ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ was made at the same time as another ‘Entomology Cabinet', ‘The Forgiveness’ (2008), which was included in Hirst’s retrospective exhibition, ‘Cornucopia’, at Monaco’s Oceanographic Museum in 2010.

The ‘Entomology Cabinets’ reference Hirst’s interest in Victorian modes of display and the curiosity cabinets that were popular in the nineteenth century. As with the butterfly, a recurring motif in Hirst’s work, all the insects incorporated into ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ retain the appearance of life in death and exemplify the fact often cited by Hirst that, in science, you have to “kill things in order to look at them”. The cabinets are also testament to the artist’s love of Natural History, as he explains: “There was a giant stuffed Bengal tiger and an aquarium in the City Museum in Leeds, where I grew up, and before I ever knew what art was, I knew about wonder and amazement from visiting this museum and without snobbery it brings the world to people who – for whatever reasons – can’t travel the world… I want to make art that touches people in a real way.”[1]

[1] Damien Hirst cited in ‘Cornucopia’ (Other Criteria/ Musée Océanographique, 2010), 9