Jean-Léon Gérôme | Moses on Mount Sinai, 1900


Painted circa 1895-1900, Gérôme’s ⎆ interpretation of Moses on Mount Sinai is an impressive demonstration of his mastery of color and complex compositional elements. The overall effect is a powerful evocation of one of the greatest moments in Jewish history.

The setting for Gérôme’s painting derives from descriptions of the Revelation in the Books of Exodus and Deuteronomy:
“On the third day when it was morning, there was thunder and lightning and a heavy cloud on the mountain, and the sound of the shofar was very powerful, and the entire people that was in the camp shuddered. Moses brought the people forth from the camp toward God, and they stood at the bottom of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was smoking because the Lord had descended upon it in the fire; its smoke ascended like the smoke of the furnace; and the entire mountain shuddered exceedingly” (Exodus 19).
“The Lord said to Moses: Ascend to Me to the mountain and remain there, and I shall give you the stone Tablets and the teaching and the commandment that I have written...” (Exodus 24).

Gérôme situates his portrayal at the moment of high drama, when Moses appears with the tablets, and the massed children of Israel are overcome with awe and wonder. While Gérôme clearly imbues the scene with a heightened imagination, it is informed by an understanding of the text and the holy site itself: the artist completed studies of Sinai on expeditions in the 1870s, and the particular characteristics of the mountain are well described.
As a whole, the descriptive nature of the work, in conjunction with the splendid massing of the crowds, the precision with which the figures are articulated, the sure handling of the highlights in the drapery, and the effects of clouds and dust, are all splendid characteristics of Gérôme's late style.

The present work is a larger version of a painting en grisaille, which Gérôme executed for reproduction in photogravure. Ultimately the illustration was bound along with ten similar works by Gérôme and other renowned artists of the period in La Biblia nell'Arte, published in Bergamo in 1917. A preparatory study for the present work, measuring 29 by 45 inches, in color but with a less detailed composition, is in a Private Collection. | © Sotheby's


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