The Finding of Moses

early 1630s, Orazio Gentileschi

On loan from a private collection, © Pyms Gallery, London

According to the Old Testament story, when Pharoah ordered the execution of all Israelite boys, the infant Moses was taken by his mother and placed in a basket by the River Nile where he was found by Pharoah's daughter and her attendants.

This painting shows the moment of discovery by Pharoah's daughter, the central figure pointing down at the child. Two handmaidens on the right gesture towards the spot where he was found. The kneeling figure in green is Moses' sister, Miriam, who had been watching nearby. She came forward and volunteered her mother, the woman seen standing on the far left with a protective hand on Miriam's shoulder, as nursemaid to the child, so returning Moses to his mother.

The picture was commissioned by Charles I for his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria, to celebrate the birth of their son, the future Charles II. Given the exotic setting of the story, Gentileschi's lush green landscape has a distinctly English quality, perhaps to reflect the nationality of his patron and the picture's intended location at the Queen's House in Greenwich. Another, arguably later version of this painting exists in the Prado Museum in Madrid.


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