The Adoration of the Golden Calf

Moses climbed Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the Ten Commandments. During his absence the Israelites built an idol with Aaron's help and worshipped it with song and dance. On his return, Moses was so angered by this that he smashed the tablets (Exodus: 32).

'The Adoration of the Golden Calf' and its companion piece, 'The Crossing of the Red Sea' were made for Amadeo dal Pozzo, a cousin of Poussin's major Roman patron, Cassiano dal Pozzo. The paintings stayed together until 1945 when the National Gallery acquired 'The Adoration'.

Poussin took the design for the group of dancers from his 'Bacchanalian Revel before a Term of Pan' (also in the Collection) another picture of pagan celebration, but turned the group through 180 degrees. The even distribution of blue, red and orange throughout the painting helps to unify the composition as a whole, but colour, for example the white of Aaron's cloak, is also used to isolate individual figures. Poussin also used emphatic gestures in order to tell the story.

Key facts

Artist dates
1594 - 1665
Full title
The Adoration of the Golden Calf
Date made
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
153.4 x 211.8 cm
Acquisition credit
Bought with a contribution from the Art Fund, 1945
Inventory number
Location in Gallery