Two women retrieve a baby from a basket floating in a river, while four others look on from the bank. According to the Old Testament story (Exodus 2: 5), the infant Moses was hidden by his mother in a reed basket on the River Nile to save him from Pharaoh’s order that all the male children of the Israelites should be killed. He was discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter, who took him into her care.
The elongated proportions of the figures, facial types, and the sensitive use of colour are all characteristic of De Bellis. They are also closely related to the works of his Neapolitan contemporary Bernardo Cavallino, to whom this painting was once attributed
Two women retrieve a baby from a basket floating in a river, while three others look on from the bank and a fourth peers around a dead tree. This is the story of Moses in the bulrushes. According to the Old Testament (Exodus 2: 5), Moses was born in Egypt, where the Israelites were enslaved. The Egyptian Pharaoh ordered all male Jewish children to be drowned in the Nile but Moses’s mother set out to save her son: ‘And when she could hide him no longer, she took a basket made of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and pitch: and put the little babe therein, and laid him in the sedges by the river’s brink … And behold the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself in the river: and her maids walked by the river’s brink. And when she saw the basket in the sedges, she sent one of her maids for it: and when it was brought she opened it and seeing within it an infant crying, having compassion on it she said: This is one of the babes of the Hebrews.’ Pharaoh’s daughter took pity on the child, and sent Moses’s sister, Miriam – seen here watching from behind the tree – to fetch a wet nurse. She brought her mother, who took back the baby and raised him until Pharaoh’s daughter later adopted him as her own son.
The elongated proportions of the figures, facial types and the sensitive use of colour are all characteristic of Antonio De Bellis. They are also closely related to the works of his Neapolitan contemporary Bernardo Cavallino, to whom this painting was once attributed. According to the eighteenth-century biographer Bernardo de' Dominici, De Bellis was a pupil of Massimo Stanzione.
De Bellis seems to have left Naples in the mid-1650s and gone to Dubrovnik. There are two monogrammed works by him there: The Holy Family (about 1657; Madonna of Sunja, Lopud ) and The Virgin in Glory with Saints Blaise and Francis (about 1657–8; Dominican Monastery, Dubrovnik). He then probably returned to Naples and this is one of four pictures thought to date from the late 1650s, after De Bellis’s time in Dubrovnik.
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