Skip to main content

Sébastien Bourdon, The Return of the Ark

Key facts
Full title The Return of the Ark
Artist Sébastien Bourdon
Artist dates 1616 - 1671
Date made 1659
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 105.3 × 134.6 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by Sir George Beaumont, 1826
Inventory number NG64
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Return of the Ark
Sébastien Bourdon

This painting illustrates an episode described in the Old Testament (1 Samuel: 6-12), which is rarely depicted in art. The Ark – a wooden chest covered in gold containing the Ten Commandments – is pulled along on a cart drawn by cattle. It is being returned to the Israelites after the Philistines stole it in battle, and the Israelites are rejoicing. The Ark was a sacred object to Jews and Christians as it had been built by Moses according to God’s instructions. God punished the Philistines for their theft and forced them to send the Ark back to its rightful owners.

Across the lake, vivid white buildings represent the Israelites‘ city of Besh-shemesh. Although the landscape with snow-capped mountains is imaginary, it resembles the countryside around Rome, where Bourdon spent most of his life. The classical composition, which draws our attention to the figures’ dramatic gestures, varied architecture and the contrast between light and shade, shows the influence of Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665), the most celebrated painter in seventeenth-century France.

Download image
Download low-resolution image

Download a low-resolution copy of this image for personal use.

License this image

License and download a high-resolution image for reproductions up to A3 size from the National Gallery Picture Library.

License image
Download low-resolution image

This image is licensed for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons agreement.

Examples of non-commercial use are:

  • Research, private study, or for internal circulation within an educational organisation (such as a school, college or university)
  • Non-profit publications, personal websites, blogs, and social media

The image file is 800 pixels on the longest side.

As a charity, we depend upon the generosity of individuals to ensure the collection continues to engage and inspire. Help keep us free by making a donation today.

Download low-resolution image

You must agree to the Creative Commons terms and conditions to download this image.

Creative Commons Logo