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Moses striking the Rock
Corrado Giaquinto
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According to the Old Testament Book of Exodus, the Israelites and their flock were thirsty after failing to find water during their long journey through Egypt. God instructed Moses to stand in front of the people with the elders of Israel and strike the rock of Horeb with his staff. A fresh stream of water gushed from the rock, enabling the Israelites and their animals to quench their thirst. Giaquinto shows the elderly Moses brandishing the miraculous staff. The delicate hues of his draperies harmonise with those of the figures in the foreground and contrast with the dull colour of the rocky landscape.

This is a modello, or highly finished painted study, for a fresco in the apse of the basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Rome. As with the related Brazen Serpent, also in the National Gallery, the dimensions are slightly larger than is usual for an oil sketch. This is probably so that the design could be approved by the Pope and the procurator of the Cistercian Order, Raimondo Besozzi, before its enlargement in fresco.

Key facts
Artist Corrado Giaquinto
Artist dates 1703 - 1766
Full title Moses striking the Rock
Series Modelli for Frescoes in S. Croce in Gerusalemme, Rome
Date made 1743-4
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 136.5 x 95 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1987
Inventory number NG6516
Location in Gallery Room 37
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Modelli for Frescoes in S. Croce in Gerusalemme, Rome

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These two paintings are modelli, or presentation pieces, for frescoes in the basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome. As part of the restoration of the church, which began in 1741, Giaquinto painted canvases for the nave’s ceiling and frescoes for the lower walls of the apse. In preparation for the commission, Giaquinto first painted bozzetti, or sketches, and then modelli for approval by the Pope and the procurator of the Cistercian Order, Raimondo Besozzi. The National Gallery has two of these modelli, featuring scenes of Moses’ miracles on his way to the Promised Land. The modelli enable us to reimagine the original colour scheme of the frescoes, which have been damaged by humidity and unsuccessful nineteenth-century restorations.

The relic of the True Cross brought back from the Holy Land by Helen, mother of the first Christian Roman Emperor (Constantine), provided the central subject of the church’s decorative scheme. The basilica had been built on the site of Helen’s villa, where the relics were originally housed.

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