Orazio Gentileschi, Mosè salvato dalle acque (‘Finding of Moses‘), 1633, National Gallery, London

The painting and artist I would like to refer to today is ‘The Finding of Moses’ by Orazio Gentileschi, the father of Artemisia Gentileschi who has been referenced and written about in a previous post. The painting was executed in 1633 and is a beautiful example of a work that illustrates Orazio’s best artistic expression. The painting was sent by the artist to Philip IV of Spain as a gift in 1633. It is oil on canvas and its dimensions are 7 ft 11 in by 9 ft 3 in. Therefore it is a very commanding and spectacular work.

After working outside Rome in Fabriano, Orazio went to Genoa, then Paris and eventually London. He enjoyed the indulgence of the upper classes in London and the support of none other than Charles I whom he advised about his art collection. Gentileschi made copies of his works in order to catalogue them. His daughter Artemisia probably began her own apprenticeship by helping her father to make these autograph variants. Most ambitious artists shunned this practice and prided themselves on never repeating a work but patrons of Orazio Gentileschi did not mind getting a copy of one of his works as long as it was painted by the artist himself. His use of colour was luxurious and opulent and the beautifully rendered silk draperies made him famous.

Instead of using light and shade to dramatic effect, the artist uses colour to illustrate his biblical rendition of the story of the baby Moses being rescued from the river Nile by the princess of Egypt herself. The figures are dressed in beautiful costumes of the artist’s time instead of fashions worn by Egyptians in the era of Moses. This gives us an insight into fashions of the upper classes of Gentileschi’s time. His favourite colour was yellow over white and he uses this quite effectively on the princess. Every drape of material is painted accurately and to detail. He varies his colours for different costumes and gives the royal courtiers better clothes than the Hebrew women who are of lower status.

The story is portrayed in the figures of the women in the painting. The princess and her entourage find the baby floating in the river Nile due to the fact that Pharaoh was having Hebrew babies slaughtered. The princess, in the work, points to the baby’s genitals indicating that the baby is Hebrew. Yet she takes him under her wing and Moses grows up in Pharaoh’s palace. His mother is hired as his wet nurse so she can have a relationship with him and see him grow up in a safe environment. Moses goes on to deliver the Hebrews out of Egypt and into the promised land of Canaan.

The King of Spain was so impressed with the beauty and magnificence of the work that he paid the artist 900 ducats. The artist signed the painting Oratio Gientileschi Fioren and as a bonus for such a beautiful work he hoped to return to Europe, to Italy, however this never eventuated and he remained in London until his death, comforted by his daughter Artemisia who joined him in 1638 where she completed his commissions and comforted him. He was born on 9 July 1563 in Pisa and died on 7 February 1639 in London. He painted in the Baroque, Caravaggisti and Mannerism styles. His paintings were beautiful.