Moses and the Messengers from Canaan

1621 - 1624

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum
Los Angeles, United States

In Giovanni Lanfranco's highly original design, a few large figures stand on a bit of ground in a wide open, receding space. Using a low viewpoint and dramatic foreshortening, Lanfranco depicted the figures as if seen from below, imbuing them with monumentality. The powerful composition communicated both to spectators standing far away and to viewers standing far beneath the painting. In the Old Testament story (Numbers 13:1-27), Moses sent spies into Canaan to determine whether the land bore fruit. Lanfranco depicted these spies as they returned, laden with grapes, pomegranates, and figs as signs of the plenty of the Promised Land. Laying the ample harvest at Moses' feet, they reported, "surely it floweth with milk and honey." In Catholic theology, the plentiful grapes of the Promised Land prefigured the wine served at the Last Supper. Appropriately, this picture and Elijah Receiving Bread from the Widow of Zarephath flanked a painting of the Last Supper in the large Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in the church of San Paolo fuori le Mura (Saint Paul's-without-the-Walls) in Rome. Six additional paintings by Lanfranco, all related to the Eucharist, also hung high on the walls of the chapel.


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