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The Worship of the Egyptian Bull God, Apis
Follower of Filippino Lippi
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This painting is the second of a pair that depicts episodes from the Book of Exodus, which describes how Moses rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and accompanied them into the promised land of Canaan.

Moses had left the Israelites for 40 days and nights, climbing Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God. Upon his return, he found his people worshipping a cult image of a golden calf, which he destroyed in anger. The painting depicts the moment immediately beforehand: the golden calf hovers in a cloud above a group of Israelites dancing and playing music.

It has been argued that the golden calf is shown here as the Egyptian bull god Apis, identified by the crescent moon on its shoulder. However, this moon may also allude to the heraldic device of the Strozzi, a Florentine patrician family. Some of them were exiled from Florence, and the Book of Exodus, with its narrative of the Israelites' exile in Egypt, would have resonated with their personal experience.

Key facts
Artist Follower of Filippino Lippi
Artist dates about 1457 - 1504
Full title The Worship of the Egyptian Bull God, Apis
Group Two Scenes from the Story of Moses
Date made about 1500
Medium and support Oil and egg on wood
Dimensions 78.1 x 137.2 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Sir Henry Bernhard Samuelson, Bt, in memory of his father, 1937
Inventory number NG4905
Location in Gallery Not on display
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Two Scenes from the Story of Moses

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Moses brings forth Water out of the Rock and The Worship of the Egyptian Bull God, Apis depict episodes from the life of Moses. They are based on the Book of Exodus, which describes how Moses rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and accompanied them into the promised land of Canaan. The first picture shows water gushing from a rock that Moses has struck with his wooden staff; the second shows the Israelites worshipping the golden calf – possibly depicted in the guise of the Egyptian god Apis – in Moses' absence.

The two works were painted by a follower of Filippino Lippi, and their equal dimensions suggest that they belong together. Such horizontal paintings were known as spalliere, and were likely to have been inserted into furniture or wainscoting. They often have a moral message, as The Worship of the Egyptian Bull God, Apis does: on his return from Mount Sinai, Moses famously admonished the Israelites for worshipping a false idol.

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