Check It Out: “Piero della Francesca in America”

Just across the park from MOBIA, located right on Fifth Avenue, is the famous Frick Collection. Now on view is an exhibition dedicated to seven works done by Italian Renaissance master Piero della Francesca (1411/13-1492).  Piero della Francesca in America brings together six panels from the altarpiece of Sant’Agostino, a church in Sansepolcro, Italy, the most extensive reassembling of the polyptych ever exhibited since its dismantling.  The exhibition also features Virgin and Child Enthroned with Four Angels, the artist’s only intact altarpiece in the United States.

Piero della Francesca (c. 1411/13–1492),
“Virgin and Child Enthroned with Four Angels”, c. 1460-70
Oil (and tempera?) on poplar panel, transferred to fabric on panel
The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

See Piero’s rendition of saints like Apollonia, patron saint of dentists, and Augustine, whom the artist portrayed as wearing a cloak depicting scenes from the life of Christ.  You may also recognize Augustine’s mother, St. Monica, the focus of a spotlight post on this blog few months ago (did you know that it became a rule of the Augustinian Order that there had to be a likeness of Monica in every Augustinian church?).

Piero della Francesca in America is on view until May 19.  The Frick Collection is located at 10 East 71st Street.

Now on view at MOBIA

MOBIA’s newest exhibition, Ashe to Amen: African Americans and Biblical Imagery, is now on view!

"Renée

Renée Stout (1958- )
“Church of the Crossroads”, 1999-2000
Neon and wood, 52 x 37 x 3 in.
Courtesy of the Artist and Hemphill Arts

Ashe to Amen investigates the intersections and crossroads of aesthetics and belief in African American art. For more than two centuries, the Bible has been a catalyst for this multicultural and initially disenfranchised artistic community and has been inspiring the creation of sacred, spiritual, and religious spaces and identity. The exhibition’s title takes its name from praise terms commonly used in African and African American communities. Ashe, a Yoruba word, refers to the creative power of an artist to make something happen. Amen is an affirmation meaning essentially “so be it”.  The visual continuum on display in Ashe to Amen presents the inventive, deeply personal, and ongoing interpretations of the Bible created by artists from the African American community.

Featuring the work of pioneers in the field – Henry Ossawa Tanner, Jacob Lawrence, and William Edmondson, among others – alongside contemporary artists and designers, the exhibition showcases works of various media and highlights the integral ways in which art impacts the religious experience.

"Bessie

Bessie Harvey (1929-1994)
“Black Horse of Revelations”, 1991
Painted wood with fabric, beads, and miscellany, 54 x 45 x 15 in.
Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY
Gift of Avalie Saperstein in memory of Elyse Saperstein
2004.23.1
Photo by Gavin Ashworth, New York

Dr. Leslie King-Hammond, Guest Curator of Ashe to Amen: African-Americans and Biblical Imagery, was interviewed by Interfaith Radio.  Listen to hear some of the details regarding the amazing works of art now on view.

Ashe to Amen will be on view at MOBIA until May 26, 2013; at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture June 22 – September 29, 2013; and at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens October 20, 2013 – January 5, 2014.

Visit our website, www.mobia.org, to check our calendar of upcoming events and public programs.

Spotlight: Fathers of the Church

"Tiffany

Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, New York
Joseph Lauber, designer
“Fathers of the Church”, c. 1892
The Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass, Long Island City, New York

In 1892, Tiffany Studios created the monumental mosaic, Fathers of the Church, as part of the Tiffany Chapel display, designed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, as a way to market the Studio’s Ecclesiastical Department to an international audience.   The chapel’s dramatic marble and glass mosaic interior was inspired by Byzantine and Romanesque models, fully furnished with an altar, reredos, lectern, baptismal font, a cruciform-shaped electrolier, and several stained glass windows.  This display was so evocative that many men reportedly removed their hats when entering this seemingly hallowed space.

The Church Fathers were writers of early Christian doctrine who lived before the eight century.  This mosaic depicts, from left to right, Saints John Chrysostom, Augustine, and Ambrose.  Though all three were bishops, only St. Augustine (who became bishop of Hippo, in northern Africa, in 396) and St. Ambrose (who became bishop of Milan in 374) are portrayed with the traditional miter (bishop’s hat) and crosier (bishop’s staff). St. John Chrysostom, though he became the bishop of Constantinople in 398, is shown holding a Bible, a reference to his renown as a preacher.  Each saint is identified by the name inscribed in the halo.  These three figures are often portrayed together in liturgical art in acknowledgment of the foundation they laid for Christianity.

Tiffany had a deep appreciation for traditional ecclesiastical vestments, which were also produced at Tiffany Studios.  As depicted in this mosaic, the resplendent robes of the Church Fathers are rich in detail.

The Tiffany Chapel earned 54 awards, more than any other exhibitor, at the 1893 World’s Fair.  It also won Tiffany Studios international fame for its religious work.  After the fair, Tiffany displayed Fathers of the Church in his showroom and featured it in the marketing booklet printed by the Studios in 1896, Glass Mosaic, to illustrate the Studios’ work as continuing in the grand tradition of European mosaic-making.  Fathers of the Church is part of The Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass, in Long Island City, New York, and on-view at MOBIA until January 20, 2013.  The Tiffany Chapel is on permanent display at the Charles Hosmer Museum of American Art in Winter Park, Florida.

–B.B. for MOBIA

“Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion” will be closing in two days!  Come see this great work and all the other beautiful works of art behind the exhibition’s end on January 20.

Breakfast at Louis C. Tiffany’s

As Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion draws to a close on January 20, 2013, the MOBIA staff continues to reflect upon what has been a memorable exhibition. Although as per regulation, food and drink are prohibited in the gallery, Truman Capote’s iconic novella and Blake Edwards’ later film were invoked as we took one last look. Featuring leaded-glass windows to mosaics and altar objects, as discussed in the Religious News Service article highlighted in the Washington Post and the Associated Press coverage from the NY Daily News, the exhibition has explored the vast array of Tiffany Studios’ production in the ecclesiastical sphere. Named one of the “best New York museum exhibitions of 2012” by Examiner.com and having received a comprehensive review by The New York Times critic Ken Johnson, we look forward to the reception of our upcoming exhibition Ashé to Amen: African Americans and Biblical Imagery which opens on February 15, 2013. On behalf of the Museum, we thank you for your continued support and send our best wishes for the New Year.

Photo by Gina Fuentes Walker

Photo by Gina Fuentes Walker

Photo by Gina Fuentes Walker

Photo by Gina Fuentes Walker

For additional installation images of Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion, please see those taken by the Associated Press that are featured in the timesunion.com slideshow.

Spotlight: The Magi

In honor of the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6th), Art, the Bible & the Big Apple is highlighting the Magi who are commemorated on this coming Sunday.

""The

“The Adoration of the Magi”
Hieronymus Bosch (Netherlandish, ’s Hertogenbosch ca. 1450–1516 ’s Hertogenbosch)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Accession Number: 13.26

In the infancy narrative of the Gospel of Matthew (Mt. 2:2-12), the Magi (sometimes known as the wise men) come to Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn Jesus, claiming that they came from the East following a star.  They bring him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, offerings that respectively symbolize Jesus’s role in the eyes of believers as King of Kings, Priest of Priests, and the Suffering Sacrifice.

Before they found Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, the Magi approached Herod the Great, the king of Judea, and inquired as to the whereabouts of the newborn king whose star they saw.  Herod sends them off to find him, telling them to return to him and alert him of the new king’s whereabouts so that he may worship him as well.  Once they depart, Herod plots to have the child, whom he considered a rival, killed.  In a parallel of what happens later in Matthew’s Gospel when an angel tells Joseph to take Mary and Jesus into Egypt, an angel warns the Magi not to return to Herod, and so they bypass Jerusalem on their journey home.

Over time, the image of these wise sojourners has evolved.  While the Magi were most likely Persian astrologists, they are commonly identified as kings, and while the Gospel does not give a specific number of men who came to pay the infant homage, they are traditionally depicted as being three in number, most likely because of the number of gifts

""The

“The Adoration of the Magi”
Quentin Metsys (Netherlandish, Leuven 1466–1530 Kiel)
Date: 1526
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Accession Number: 11.143

presented.  A document dated to 500 C.E. called the Excerpta Latina Barbari identifies the Magi as Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar.  They are also traditionally assigned different areas of origin, though Scripture implies that they derived from the same country.  In art often one is depicted as being European, another as African, and another as Asian or Middle Eastern.  Sometimes they are even depicted as being in the throes of three different stages of life – young, middle aged, and elderly.

How to Know Them: The Magi can be identified most easily be their symbolic attributes, their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  They stand out from the other witnesses to the Nativity in their lavish costumes, in particular contrast to the shepherds who come directly from the fields to worship Jesus.

""The

“The Adoration of the Magi”
Giotto di Bondone (Italian, Florentine, 1266/76–1337)
Date: possibly ca. 1320
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Accession Number: 11.126.1

Where to Find Them: Nativity scenes so often and so prominently featured the Magi over time that many portrayals are known by the title The Adoration of the Magi.

""Adoration

“Adoration of the Magi”
Date: ca. 1520
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Accession Number: 32.100.144

A Metropolis Full of Magi: The magi can be found mostly in nativity sets, but New York City museums have many depictions of this scene.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art contains a large collection, one of which was recently on view at MOBIA as the subject of the exhibition The Adoration of the Magi by Bartolo di Fredi: A Masterpiece Reconstructed.

""The

“The Adoration of the Magi’
Bartolo di Fredi (Italian, active by 1353–died 1410 Siena)
Date: ca. 1390
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Accession Number: 1975.1.16

Contemporary Kings: The Magi are staples of religious Christmas films and television specials.  They are major characters in the 1968 classic stop-motion animation classic The Little Drummer Boy, fitting into the perception of Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar as coming having come from Europe, Africa, and Asia, respectively.

""The

“The Adoration of the Magi”
Date: ca. 1175–1200
The Cloisters Collection
Accession Number: 30.77.6-.9

The Magi also act as comic relief in the 2006 film The Nativity Story.  The first act of the movie shows three calculating their destination based on the star, the second act focuses on their bumbling travels to Judea, and the third encapsulates the awe-inspiring faith they find at coming upon and his parents in the stable.

"Leaves

Leaves from a Beatus Manuscript: Bifolium with part of the Genealogy of Christ and the Adoration of the Magi
Date: ca. 1180
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Accession Number: 1991.232.2a-d

Spotlight: The Shepherds

“Plaque with the Annunciation to the Shepherds”, ca. 1165
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 17.190.417

One of the most enduring and endearing Christmas images is that of a heavenly host of angels calling to fearful shepherds in the fields of Judea that on this day, in the city of David, a Savior was born.  These humble shepherds are the first to hear the proclamation that has remained integral to worship in the Christian faith, “’Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:14).  The shepherds who find the infant Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger are the first to worship Jesus as the Messiah in the chronological narrative of Gospels.

How to Know Them and Where to Find Them: In contrast to the rich and gift-bearing magi who come to praise the newborn in the Gospel of Matthew, the shepherds are usually depicted in plain clothes.  In many depictions throughout the centuries, they have been portrayed as peasants, often times in clothing contemporary to the artist.  Sometimes they are shown holding bagpipes, the traditional instrument associated with sheep herders, as they were in the a painting exhibited at MOBIA earlier this year, loaned from the Cloisters.

"Bartolo

Bartolo di Fredi
“The Adoration of the Shepherds”, c. 1374
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cloisters Collection
25.120.288

The shepherds can be found in general Nativity scenes, but there exists a subset of those scenes, called the Adoration of the Shepherds, that specifically focuses on their encounter with the Holy Family.

The shepherds are also found in portrayals of the annunciation to them by the angels.

"Andrea

Andrea Mantegna
“The Adoration of the Shepherds”, shortly after 1450
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
32.130.2

Shepherd Sightings: The Metropolitan Museum of Art has several depictions of the shepherds of the Nativity story, including one by Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna.  Another image, by a follower of Jan Joest of Kalkar, is based off of the visions of St. Bridget of Sweden, a fourteenth-century mystic who envisioned the Christ child as emanating a great light.

In Today’s World: The attendants of the Nativity have long stirred the imaginations of artists.  Lew Wallace, a Civil War general and author, devotes a lengthy passage to the experience of the shepherds in his novel Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ.  Though best known as a film, the original 1880 novel introduces the story by lavishing attention on the various figures who adored the infant Jesus.

The shepherds are treated to screen time in 2006’s The Nativity Story.  Before the birth of her son, Mary encounters an elderly shepherd on way to Bethlehem who tells her that he was never blessed enough in life to receive a gift.  Later, when the shepherds come to adore the child, Mary holds her baby out the teary-eyed shepherd, and when he touches the infant, she tells him, “Each of us is given a gift.”

"Follower

Follower of Jan Joest of Kalkar
“The Adoration of the Christ Child”
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1982.60.22

Whether it be in tender, in-depth portrayals like this, through the singing of a Christmas carol like “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, or in a family’s chreche, lovingly displayed every holiday season, the inclusion of the shepherds brings a sense of humility, wonder, and awe to the Nativity scene.

- T.C. for MOBIA

Spotlights on Broadway: The Head of St. Andrew

The commitment of Tiffany Studio’s Ecclesiastical Department to “elevate the beauty of religion” is evident in their works as varied as leaded-glass windows, mosaics, baptismal fonts, and church furnishings that feature innovative designs and fine materials. Louis C. Tiffany employed skilled chemists, designers, and craftsmen within his workshop and their meticulous attention to detail can be seen in the Head of St. Andrew, detail for a Last Supper composition. This mosaic is the subject of the upcoming “Spotlight Tour” here at MOBIA on Thursday, December 27th at 6:30 pm where a docent will lead a free 20-minute talk that will also discuss the overall theme of the exhibition Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion.

"Tiffany

Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, New York
“Head of St. Andrew”, detail for a “Last Supper” composition, ca. 1897
Glass mosaic, 49 x 30 in.
Collection of Allen Michaan, courtesy of Lillian Nassau LLC, New York

Intended as a sample mosaic that would have been shown to prospective patrons, the Head of St. Andrew suggests the breadth and artistry that one could expect from Tiffany Studios. St. Andrew the Apostle is rendered in favrile and opalescent glass tesserae in a full spectrum of colors that relate a distinct three-dimensionality to the composition. Tiffany Studios’ acute ability to depict textiles in mosaics can be seen in the suggestion of embroidery on the tablecloth and the natural fall of the crimson drape. St. Andrew’s name is inscribed in Latin on his halo, and the gold tesserae that are used have a rippled effect that suggests the appearance of actual engraving. This brilliant detail loses some dimension in visual reproductions, demanding that one see and experience it in person to fully appreciate it.

"Tiffany

Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, New York
Frederick Wilson, designer
“The Last Supper”, installed 1897
Favrile, opalescent glass mosaic, 9 x 18 ft.
The First Unitarian Church of Baltimore, Maryland, Gift of the Eaton family

A complete 9×18 foot mosaic of the Last Supper by Tiffany Studios that includes the vignette of St. Andrew was commissioned by the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore, Maryland, where it can be seen today. Art historical precedents of the Last Supper such as Leonardo da Vinci’s painting from Santa Maria della Grazie, Milan (1495-98), seem to have influenced this rendition. By referencing these works within their own creations, Tiffany Studios sought to place themselves within the grand tradition of art.

- A.P.R. for MOBIA

Spotlights on Broadway: The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory

Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion, currently on view at MOBIA, features the monumental stained-glass window The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory, Brainard Memorial Window.  Created for a Methodist church in Waterville, New York, around 1901, it was designed by Frederick Wilson, the lead designer in Tiffany’s Ecclesiastical Department.  The window is a stunning example of artistic innovation, theological understanding, and beauty.

The Righteous window is an allegory derived from 1 Peter 5:4: “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the glorious crown which will never lose its brightness.”  A female allegorical figure, whose back is turned to the viewer, ascends steps with the help of two angels, one clothed in purple, the other in blue.  Three other angels hover at the top of the steps; the center angel holds a crown above a resplendent jeweled cross, which dominates the window.  For Christians, the cross embodies the redemptive sacrifice willingly made by Jesus so that all believers might have eternal life in heaven.  The message of triumph over death and the serenity and hope this Christian belief instills in believers are clearly communicated through glass, figural composition, and the window’s placement inside a church.  It was created during a time, post-Civil War, when religious images that highlighted suffering were falling out of favor and images of redemption, hope, and joy were more desired in worship spaces.

"Tiffany

Tiffany Studios, New York
Frederick Wilson, designer
“The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory, Brainard Memorial Window for Methodist Church, Waterville, New York” (detail), ca. 1901
Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York
Photo by Richard Goodbody, Inc.

This window is an exemplar of the work Tiffany Studios created because it features several types of glass.  Glass is produced by crushing sand and various minerals together and melting them at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  This creates molten liquid, which is spread out on a table to make a sheet of glass.  What happens to the molten liquid once on the table affects its texture, opacity, color, and overall natural quality.  The central figure’s robes, for example, are created using drapery glass.  Drapery glass is a type of opalescent glass that is made by holding one end of a roller still and pushing the other end in short, regular intervals across the molten surface of the glass to create fan-shaped folds that emanate from a single point.  Other types of glass used in the creation and design of the window include feathered glass (used for the wings of the angels) and ripple glass (used to emphasize the majesty of the halo encircling the cross).

"Tiffany

Tiffany Studios, New York
Frederick Wilson, designer
“The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory, Brainard Memorial Window for Methodist Church, Waterville, New York” (detail), ca. 1901
Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York
Photo by Richard Goodbody, Inc.

Trained as an artist, Louis C. Tiffany used his knowledge of color and light to emphasize certain aspects of the window.  In this window, the color scheme was deliberately chosen and rendered to highlight the visual and theological center of the composition: the cross.  By using darker colors like purple around the outside and lightening them to pastel hues as they move inward, the pale yellow cross becomes more illuminated through contrast without the work of any additional lighting.  The effect is also helped by the studded glass jewels that embellish the cross.

The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory was removed from the Methodist church and acquired by Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Randall, who in 1996 donated it to the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York. At that point, it was in disrepair and in need of conservation treatment.

In July 2012, the window was secured in 11 custom-built crates at the Corning Museum of Glass and taken to the Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass in Long Island City. Over the summer, it was restored by Drew Anderson, a conservator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Fully restored, it can be seen at MOBIA until January 20.

- T.C. for MOBIA

"Tiffany

Tiffany Studios, New York
Frederick Wilson, designer
“The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory, Brainard Memorial Window for Methodist Church, Waterville, New York”, ca. 1901
Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York
Photo by Richard Goodbody, Inc.

Spotlights on Broadway: The Cryder Memorial Window

The Cryder Memorial Window, now on view in MOBIA’s exhibition Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion, is a striking and complex example of a memorial window made by Tiffany Studios. The story behind the window is worth exploring …

"Tiffany

Tiffany Studios, New York
“Sir Galahad”, Cryder Memorial Window, before 1910
Leaded glass, 45 x 27 1/4 inches
St. Andrew’s Dune Church, Southampton, New York
Courtesy of St. Andrew’s Dune Church; Photo by Richard Goodbody, Inc.

Ogden Cryder was the youngest child and only son of Edith Ogden Cryder and Duncan Cryder. The well-to-do family lived in Southampton, Long Island, and Ogden was a student at Groton, a private all-boys boarding school in Massachusetts. In December 1901, he was in the fifth form (his junior year) and home for the winter holiday. Two days after Christmas, he fell beneath a streetcar in lower Manhattan, near Washington Square. He was rushed to St. Vincent’s Hospital, where he died the next day. More than one hundred of his schoolmates – most of Groton’s student body – attended his funeral.

Obituary from the NY Herald, Tuesday, January 7, 1902

Obituary from the NY Herald, Tuesday, January 7, 1902

Ogden’s parents commissioned a window from Tiffany Studios as a memorial to their son. It was installed in 1902 in St. Andrew’s Dune Church, where the family worshipped each Sunday. The subject of the window – a medieval knight – may well strike us an unusual. The window is nearly an exact copy of a famous painting entitled Sir Galahad by the English artist George Frederic Watts.

"George

George Frederic Watts
“Sir Galahad”, 1860-62
Oil on canvas, 75 1/2 x 42 1/8 inches
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop, 1943.209

During the late 1800s, the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table became enormously popular.  Sir Galahad, the son of Sir Lancelot, is a young knight exceptional both for his beauty and for his extreme chastity. He dedicates himself to the quest for the Holy Grail and is the only one of Arthur’s knights to achieve the Grail. In Watts’ painting, Galahad pauses in meditation, almost as if he were listening to a sermon or contemplating a vision, and his head is haloed by a white cloud; he seems the embodiment of purity and chivalry.

Watts’ painting was well-known in England and was used repeatedly for memorials to young men killed in the Boer War and in World War I. In April 1918, Alexander Dobbie, only 19 years old, died of his wounds in northern France. His parents commissioned a memorial window from Morris & Company, an English design firm similar in many ways to Tiffany Studios. The window pictured here is one of several versions that Morris & Company produced. *

In comparing the windows made by the two design firms, we can see that Tiffany Studios and Morris & Company used radically different approaches to translating Watts’ Sir Galahad into stained glass. The Morris & Co. version favors deep, uniform colors, carefully delineated, and appears on the whole more painterly; while the Tiffany Studios version is a many-layered composition of surprising depth and warmth, in which the radiant sky and the dappled light of the forest are captured with a mixture of colors and textures. The difference in style is especially pronounced in the treatment of Sir Galahad’s face: his features are formal, even flat, in Morris & Co.’s window, while his cheeks and forehead glow with light in Tiffany’s.

Our understanding and appreciation of Tiffany’s artistry is deepened when we consider that this window, though based on a popular image, served a very personal purpose: it was what Ogden Cryder’s parents would have seen every Sunday when they went to church, and it was one of the ways in which they remembered their youngest child.

- E. L. for MOBIA

*Information drawn from Christine Poulson’s book, The Quest for the Grail: Arthurian Legend in British Art, 1840-1920, Chapter 4

Spotlight: Pharaoh’s Daughter

In Exodus 2:5, an Egyptian princess is bathing in the Nile when she happens upon a crying baby floating in a basket among the reeds.  The princess recognizes that the baby is a Hebrew boy in need of protection.  At this time, the Egyptians having newborn Hebrew boys killed so that the slave population would not outnumber the Egyptian population.  The princess takes pity on the baby and claims him as her own.  Though the boy is nursed by his biological mother, he is raised and named by his royal finder, who declares, “’I pulled him out of the water, and so I name him Moses’” (Exodus 2:10).  Thus the story of the Israelites’ liberation from bondage and the establishment of Jewish law begins, with the figure of Pharaoh’s daughter finding Moses on the banks of the river, one of the most identifiable scenes in the Judeo-Christian art tradition.

Jacopo Tintoretto (1519-1594)
“The Finding of Moses”, n.d.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
39.55
(artwork not on display)

How to Know Her and Where to Find Her: Throughout the centuries, this scene has been portrayed in various locales, with the figures dressed in garments often of the time period and region of the artist.  But whether Pharaoh’s daughter is portrayed as an actual Egyptian or she appears more like a Northern European noblewoman, she is discernible by her placement along the river, her proximity to the baby or basket, and the presence of her maidservants, who are sometimes depicted as finding Moses, though it is not noted in the biblical account that anyone other than the princess withdrew the infant from the water.

“Figure of the Finding of Moses”, ca. 1859-64
Modeling attributed to William Beattie
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
68.97.7

Nile Scene in NYC: If you walk through The Metropolitan Museum of Art, keep your eyes open for depictions of this Exodus account.  There is a sculptural group in Gallery 737 of Pharaoh’s daughter, her servant, and baby Moses (note the small Sphinx figure on the princess’s left).  The Jewish Museum also has a painting by James Tissot of the finding that draws attention from the baby in the river to the princess waiting on the bank through the succession of maidservants and their expressive gestures as they retrieve him.

James Tissot (1836-1902)
“Pharaoh’s Daughter Has Moses Brought to Her”, ca. 1896-1902
The Jewish Museum (artwork not on display)

Princess in Popular Culture: Rabbinic midrash, commentary on the Hebrew Bible, bestows upon the princess the name Bithiah, and the first century Jewish historian Josephus refers to her as Thermuthis.  Still, in other accounts, she is named Merris or Merrhoe.  Under the name Bithiah, she was portrayed by Nina Foch in the 1956 film The Ten Commandments, wherein she was not the daughter of a pharaoh, but his wife, an interpretation that was repeated in the 1998 Dreamworks animated musical The Prince of Egypt.  In that film, the queen, voiced by Helen Mirren, finds Moses and raises him to have no knowledge of his true heritage.  Called Tuya (who was the historical wife of Pharaoh Seti I), she tells Moses, when he expresses despondency at learning he is not her real son, “When the gods send you a blessing, you don’t ask why it was sent.”

“The Ten Commandments”, 1956

“The Prince of Egypt”, 1998

Literature – The young adult novel Pharaoh’s Daughter: A Novel of Ancient Egypt by Julius Lester details the lives of the women involved in Moses’s upbringing.  In this imagined retelling of the well-known story, Moses is adopted by the daughter of Pharaoh in defiance of Pharaoh’s wishes, but the main character is not the princess who rescues the baby from the river, but his older sister, who, in Exodus 2, brings her mother to the princess so that she can nurse him.  Tradition has always upheld that this was Moses’s sister Miriam who watched over her brother at this crucial moment, but Lester points out that the text never specifies that it is Miriam, so he invents the character of Almah, who follows her brother into the Egyptian royal house and finds a calling outside of slavery.  Lester cleverly plays with the moniker “Pharaoh’s daughter” through an intriguing what-if scenario that explores the two opposing circumstances of royalty and slavery and switches out usual protagonist and minor characters for narrative focus.

- T.C. for MOBIA