The Finding of Moses1639 - 1640. Oil on canvas, 209 x 138 cm.
A broad landscape is the setting for Moses’s rescue from the Nile River by the Egyptian Pharaoh’s daughter and her retinue. In the foreground, a shepherd sleeps, indifferent to the events taking place behind him. The lush landscape, flowing river with a bridge, and the city in the background to the right are artistic license, and the original vegetation is evoked by only one element: the palm tree on the river’s right bank.
Vague relations have been drawn between the architectural elements in this painting and the outskirts of Rome, as the right part of the city distantly recalls the Port of San Paolo (Porta Ostiense). Lorrain used a literal copy of this landscape, without the figures, in his Rest on the Flight to Egypt (1645, The Cleveland Museum of Art; Roethlisberger 1961) and a part of it in Landscape with Shepherds (1641, Castle Howard, Howard Collection; Roethlisberger 1961), which includes the same bridge, the river and some trees taken directly from the Museo del Prado’s painting. In Roethlisberger’s opinion (1961), Herman van Swanevelt conceived his Landscape with a River and Anglers (P2141) by imitating what is presented here. While the two artist’s close relation has been proven, the supposed link between these two paintings is too generic to justify allegations of dependence on the part of the Dutch painter. It seems more likely that the similarity is due to both artists’ response to the same indications from Madrid, which were issued in order to create a group of works with a unified appearance.
This painting was part of the second series of vertical landscapes commissioned by Philip IV for Madrid’s Buen Retiro Palace. Lorrain is customarily though to have conceived his four paintings from this second series in two pairs, with the present work accompanied by his Burial of Saint Serapia (P2252), which is supposed to share compositional and narrative similarities. There are, however, reasons to relate it with The Archangel Raphael and Tobias (P2255). The years 1639-40 are unanimously accepted as the dates for this and the other three works in the series, as Roethlisberger proposed in 1961. In fact, the most solid argument in favor of this chronology is its position in the Liber Varitatis, the notebook in which Claude Lorrain copied many of his own compositions. Following Baldinucci, he began that notebook with the commissions from Madrid. Comparison with the works by other painters who participated in that commission allows us to confirm not only the chronology, but also the order of the two series, which shows that the pair with horizontal formats was the first. The sketch of this painting in the Liber Veritatis bears an inscription in Lorrain’s own hand that reads: quadro per il Re di Spagna. The following work has a similar inscription, although in a different ink: Claudio fecit in V.R.
The formidable campaign of arts acquisitions carried out by the Count-Duke of Olivares in the 1640s to decorate the vast spaces at Madrid’s Buen Retiro Palace included a very notable number of landscapes. Of these works -almost two hundred in all- we cannot determine how many were purchased in Flanders or Spain, nor which ones came from private collections or other Royal Seats, but thanks to the works at the Museo del Prado and documents found to date, we can establish with certainty that the Buen Retiro Palace was furnished with numerous landscapes painted for the occasion by artists active in Rome.
A series of at least twenty-five landscapes with anchorites and a dozen Italianate landscapes -large format works by different artists- were commissioned. Of the pieces that have survived, most are at the Museo del Prado.
Commissioned in Rome between 1633 and 1641, these landscape paintings from the Buen Retiro constituted an early anthology of this new painting from nature characterized by a new awareness of the effects of light and the atmosphere of the Roman countryside that would eventually spread through most of Europe, representing one of many aspects of classicism (Text drawn from Posada Kubissa, T.: Pintura holandesa en el Museo Nacional del Prado. Catálogo razonado, 2009, pp. 230-232; Capitelli, G. in Úbeda de los Cobos, A.: El Palacio del Rey Planeta. Felipe IV y el Buen Retiro, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2005, p. 241).