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The Israelites gathering Manna
Niccolò Pisano
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According to the Book of Exodus, the Israelites, having escaped slavery in Egypt, feared famine as they wandered the desert. They complained to Moses, so God sent down a heavenly food, manna, which fell from the sky each morning but melted in the sun. Here, they gather the manna up into pots, jars, bowls and even pinafores.

This painting on linen canvas – a rare survival from the Renaissance – was probably originally in a small chapel or oratory in Ferrara, or possibly in the house of one of the Jewish community there. It is one of a group of eight similar paintings showing subjects from Genesis and Exodus, two of which are in the National Gallery’s collection.

Given the fragility of painting on linen, both this and The Dance of Miriam are in reasonable condition, although they were probably originally brighter: both are covered with surface dirt and some of the pigments have deteriorated. A distinctive feature of both is the copious amount of finely applied gilding, which would have shone by candle light.

Key facts
Artist Niccolò Pisano
Artist dates 1470 - about 1536
Full title The Israelites gathering Manna
Series Two Scenes from the Story of Moses
Date made probably 1500-3
Medium and support Glue tempera on linen
Dimensions 119.3 x 78.7 cm
Acquisition credit Layard Bequest, 1916
Inventory number NG3103
Location in Gallery Not on display
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Two Scenes from the Story of Moses

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These two Old Testament scenes are painted not on panel, as are most surviving Italian Renaissance paintings, but on linen. They are part of a series of eight paintings on linen canvasses by various artists, which survive in various collections.

Although now rare, paintings on linen were widespread in the Renaissance. They could serve as hangings, curtains, altar frontals and banners, as well as framed works of art; they were much cheaper than tapestries, faster to execute than frescoes and easier to transport than panel paintings.

These pictures probably came from a small chapel or oratory in Ferrara. Alternatively, they might have been from the home of a member of Ferrara’s Jewish community.

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