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The Israelites drinking the miraculous Water
Bassano, Jacopo
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Bassano, Jacopo

Bassano, 1510 - Bassano, 1592

The Israelites drinking the miraculous Water

1566 - 1568. Oil on canvas, 146 x 230 cm.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Jacopo Bassano and his sons were renowned throughout Europe, but most of all in Spain, after Philip II began acquiring their works in the 1570s. Jacopo was then appreciated as an eminently naturalist painter who specialised in depictions of animals and genre scenes. As the Spanish ambassador to Venice put it in 1574: He is very esteemed for his paintings of natural animals and other things. The Israelites drinking the Miraculous Water, c.1566-68, is a marvellous example of Jacopo`s skills as a naturalist. We cannot rule out the idea that the painter had other reasons for making it, however, as its appearance calls to mind Leon Battista Alberti`s words in De Pictura (1435), regarding varietas as a source of pleasure in painting, and considering the significance of depicting old men, men, adolescents, children, matrons, young women, newborn babies, pets, puppies, birds, horses in the same scene.

This painting illustrates two separate episodes from Exodus. In the middle ground, at the centre of the composition, Moses and Aaron lead the Israelites towards the Promised Land, following the brilliant sunlight that Jacopo uses to symbolise the column of fire that guided the Jews (Exodus 13:21-22). In the foreground, unrelated to that journey, men, women and animals slake their thirst at the spring that Moses had previously caused to flow from the rock of Horeb (Exodus 17:1-7). Bernard Aikema sought to explain this juxtaposition of scenes on the basis of Venetian religiosity in Jacopo`s time, which was characterised by a growing orthodoxy and evergreater control of the figurative arts. This is perceptible in the strength of the Inquisition at that time, and in the inclusion of secular elements in religious paintings.

That atmosphere would explain the difference between this painting and earlier ones by the same artist with similar characteristics. Jacopo`s intention would have been to bring a moral content to genre painting in order to dispel any hint of heterodoxy. Thus, this apparently innocuous image of humans and animals drinking in the foreground would actually constitute a grave warning as to the weakness of homo carnalis, and his willingness to succumb to immediate pleasures. So, too, the presence of Moses and Aaron at the head of their flock would reflect the Counter-Reformation`s emphasis on social hierarchy. There are no indications, however, that the Venetian or Spanish public could recognise such sophisticated intentions, and paintings by Jacopo Bassano and his sons were mainly appreciated for their formal aspects.

Alessandro Ballarin dates this work from between 1566 and 1568, and believes it is entirely by Jacopo, but W. R. Rearick considers it a later work -from the 1570s- and sees the hand of the artist`s son, Giambattista, in the horse and the figure to its right. Accepting Ballarin`s theory as to its chronology, we cannot exclude the idea that one of Jacopo`s assistants may have contributed to the areas just mentioned, although this canvas is in less-than-perfect condition -in 1636 it was already described as somewhat mistreated- and that could also explain the differences of quality.

We do not know when this work entered the Spanish Royal Collection, but it is mentioned for the first time in 1636, at the Alcázar Palace in Madrid. It entered the Museo del Prado in 1819 (Falomir, M.: Italian Masterpieces. From Spain`s Royal Court, Museo del Prado, 2014, p. 88).

Technical data

Inventory number
Bassano, Jacopo
The Israelites drinking the miraculous Water
1566 - 1568
High/Height: 146 cm.; Width: 230 cm.
Royal Collection

Bibliography +

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Pintura italiana del S. XVII en España, Madrid UniversidadFundación Valdecilla, 1965, pp. 552.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas, Madrid Museo del PradoEspasa Calpe, 1990, pp. 213.

Rearick, W. R., En: Brown, B. L., Bologna Nuova Alfa Editoriale, 1992, pp. 162.

Romani, V., En: Brown, B. L., Bologna Nuova Alfa Editoriale, 1992, pp. 108-110, n. 39.

Romani, V., En: Brown, B. L., Bologna Nuova Alfa Editoriale, 1992, pp. 108-110, n. 39; 252-253, n. 10.

Brown, B. L.; Marini, P., Jacopo Bassano, c. 1510-1592, Bologna Nuova Alfa Editoriale, 1992, pp. 108, n. 39.

Ballarin, A. En: Brown, Beverly Louise, Jacopo Bassano C. 1510-1592, Bolonia Nuova Alfa Editoriale, 1992, pp. 189-203.

Checa Cremades, Fernando, Tiziano y la monarquía hispánica: usos y funciones de la pin, Madrid Nerea, 1994, pp. 299.

Buendía, José Rogelio1928-, El Prado. Colecciones de Pintura, Barcelona Lunwerg Editores, 1994, pp. 280.

Checa Cremades, Fernando, Tiziano y la monarquía hispánica: usos y funciones de la pin, Madrid Nerea, 1994, pp. 299, n. 129.

Ballarin, A., L'incontro di Giacobbe e Rachele al Pozzo. Jacopo Bassano 1562-1568. En: Jacopo Bassano. Scritti 1964-1995. vol. I, t.II, Padova Bertoncello Artigrafiche, 1995, pp. 269-291 [291].

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: catálogo de las pinturas : 1996, Madrid Ministerio de Educación y Cultura, 1996, pp. 16.

Aikema, Bernard, Jacopo Bassano and His Public. Moralizing Pictures in An Age of Reform ca. 1535-1600, Princeton University Press, 1996, pp. 87-88.

Checa Cremades, Fernando, De Tiziano a Bassano. Maestros Venecianos del Museo de Prado, Barcelona Museu Nacional D'Art de Catalunya, 1997, pp. 158-161, n. 34.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Pintura italiana del Renacimiento: guía, Madrid Museo del PradoAldeasa, 1999, pp. 248.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Los Bassano en la España del Siglo de Oro, Madrid Museo Nacional del Prado, 2001, pp. 60-61, n. 1.

Cottrell, P.; Mulcahy, R., Succeding Titian: Parrasio Micheli and Venetian painting at the court of Philip II : The Burlington Magazine Publicati, 2007, pp. 232-245 [235, 242, 244].

Martínez Leiva, G.; Rodríguez Rebollo, A., Qvuadros [sic] y otras cosas que tienen [sic] su Magestad Felipe IV en este Alcázar de Madrid, año de 1636, Madrid Fundación Universitaria Española, 2007, pp. 112, 174.

Luna, J. J., De Tiziano a Goya. Grandes maestros del Museo del Prado, Madrid Museo Nacional del Prado : SEACEX, 2007, pp. 236.

Ruíz Manero, J. M., Los Bassano en España, Madrid Fundación Universitaria Española, 2011, pp. 89-92, n.1JA(?); 489, il. XIII.

Falomir, Miguel, Titian, Jacopo Bassano and the Purification of the Temple : IRSA, 2013, pp. 275-284 [280, f.5].

Falomir Faus, M., Jacopo Bassano 'The Israelites drinking the Miraculous water' En: National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, pp. 88.

Other inventories +

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 757.

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 757.
Bassano (Jacobo) / 757. Moises y su pueblo. Después del prodigioso milagro del agua de la peña, Moises y su hermano siguen el viage á la cabeza del pueblo de Israel / Alto 5 pies, 2 pulg; ancho 8 pies, 3 pulg, 6 lin.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 25.

Exhibitions +

Maestros italianos. Melbourne
16.05.2014 - 31.08.2014

Italian Masterpieces from Spain's Royal Court. Museo Nacional del Prado
16.05.2014 - 31.08.2014

From Titian to Goya. Great Masters from the Museo del Prado
13.09.2007 - 12.11.2007

De Tiziano a Goya. Grandes maestros del Museo del Prado - China
12.09.2007 - 12.11.2007

From Titian to Goya. Great Masters from the Museo del Prado
29.06.2007 - 24.08.2007

De Tiziano a Goya. Grandes maestros del Museo del Prado - China
Pekín - Beijing
24.06.2007 - 24.08.2007

Pekín - Beijing
24.06.2007 - 24.08.2007

Pintura veneciana del siglo XVI de las colecciones del Museo del Prado
04.12.1997 - 08.02.1998

Jacopo Bassano
Bassano del Grappa
05.09.1992 - 08.12.1992

Update date: 12-02-2016 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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