Moses, Painted By José de Ribera (c. 1591-1652)

This curious painting was created by the Spanish artist José de Ribera (c. 1591-1652). It depicts Moses, the lawgiver of the Abrahamic religions, who bestowed the Ten Commandments upon his followers. Besides the inscribed tablets of stone, upon which the commandments were written, one’s eyes are also likely drawn to the peculiar rays of light jutting out from Moses’ head. This interesting detail comes from a pesky line in the Book of Exodus that caused great annoyances for churchmen who wished to commission artistic renditions of Moses. The line in question is Exodus 34:35, which claims that Moses’ followers “saw that his face was radiant.” Early translators faced a dilemma regarding this line, as the Hebrew word for “radiated light” (Keren) could also be translated to “grew horns.” This latter interpretation of “grew horns” was unfortunately used in the 5th-century Vulgate Bible, produced by St. Jerome, and his awkward translation inspired many an artist to add horns to the top of Moses’ head. José de Ribera brought both interpretations together for this painting, choosing to grace his subject’s head with horns made of light. In contrast, the famous artist, Michelangelo, opted for much more realistic horns in his masterful statue of Moses (click HERE for more on this statue).

Written by C. Keith Hansley



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