Moses, By Hans Canon (c. 1829 – 1885)

This portrait, painted by the Austrian artist Hans Canon (c. 1829 – 1885) depicts Moses—the lawgiver of the Abrahamic religions. Featured in this painting of the early religious leader is the peculiar inclusion of 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. Hans Canon, as well as many other painters who made depictions of Moses, made the interesting choice of combining the two interpretations together, resulting in Moses’ head being adorned with horns of radiant light.

Written by C. Keith Hansley


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