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“The Crossing of the Red Sea” by Nicolas Poussin

"The Crossing of the Red Sea" by Nicolas Poussin

“The Crossing of the Red Sea”

by Nicolas Poussin

“The Crossing of the Red Sea” by Nicolas Poussin depicts the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites, from chapter 14 of the book of Exodus. Poussin’s composition of the classic Biblical story shows Moses with his hand raised, as through him, God completes the parting the Red Sea. The Israelites are shown in the aftermath of this event, awestruck and celebrating because they have escaped Pharoah’s army. Some of the Israelites are pulling from the waters, the armour and clothing of the drowned Egyptian military, after the Israelites had crossed in safety.

Poussin has meticulously drawn eighty-nine figures into this painting, yet he managed to maintain order in the composition. The Crossing of the Red Sea is among Poussin’s most detailed works and was made as part of a pair of paintings, the other being The “Adoration of the Golden Calf”, now at the National Gallery, London. Poussin’s primary sponsor in Rome commissioned both paintings.

Crossing the Red Sea

The Crossing of the Red Sea is part of the biblical narrative of the Exodus, which details the escape of the Israelites, led by Moses, from the pursuing Egyptians. Moses holds out his staff, and God parts the Red Sea. The Israelites walk on the dry ground and cross the sea, followed by the Egyptian army. Once the Israelites have safely crossed Moses lifts his arms again, the sea closes, and the Egyptians are drowned. When the Israelites see the power of God, they put their faith in God and Moses and sing a song of praise to the Lord for the crossing of the sea and the destruction of their enemies.

“Sing to the Lord,
for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea.”
– Song of the Sea, Book of Exodus

Nicolas Poussin

Nicolas Poussin (1594 – 1665) was the leading painter of the classical French Baroque style, although he spent most of his working life in Rome. Most of his works were on religious and mythological subjects painted for a small group of Italian and French collectors. He returned to Paris for a brief period to serve as First Painter to the King under Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu, but soon returned to Rome and resumed his more traditional themes. He was a major inspiration for such classically oriented artists as Jacques-Louis David, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Paul Cézanne.

The Crossing of the Red Sea

  • Title:                The Crossing of the Red Sea
  • Artist:              Nicolas Poussin
  • Year:                1633-1634
  • Medium:         Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions    155.6 cm × 215.3 cm (61.3 in × 84.8 in)
  • Museum:        National Gallery of Victoria – NGV

Nicolas Poussin

Reflections

  • “Every time I leave a Poussin, I know better who I am.” – Cézanne
  • “Poussin was one of the greatest innovators found in the history of painting.” – Ingres

Explore the National Gallery of Victoria

Quotes by Moses

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“I have been a stranger in a foreign land.”

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“Have you forgotten God? Even if you have, He has not forgotten you.”

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“Fear not! Stand your ground… the Lord himself will fight for you; you have only to keep still.”

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“Let my teaching fall like rain, and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.”

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“You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another.”

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“Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”

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“The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”

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“No lusting after your neighbour’s house – or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbour’s.”

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“O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

~~~

“Have you forgotten God? Even if you have, He has not forgotten you.”
– Moses

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Photo Credit: 1) Nicolas Poussin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

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