Along with Peter Paul Rubens and Anthonis van Dyck, Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678) is one of the most important Flemish painters of the 17th century. Like Peter Paul Rubens, the younger Jacob Jordaens was also a master of biblical and mythological painting.
His Karlsruhe painting, "Moses Strikes Water from the Stone" (C. 1618/20), measures almost two by two meters. The bold composition illustrates the Old Testament miracle that befell the Israelites during their flight out of Egyptian captivity.
No longer broken into individual narrative scenes, the story is condensed into a single dramatic moment before the denouement. Jordaens shows men of various ages, women, crying children, and animals huddling together into a tight group behind Moses at the opening of a cave. Harrowed by thirst, they watch restlessly with beseeching, eager gestures and expressions to see what will happen. They hold pitchers and jugs high above their heads, in order to catch the water that is about to flow from the rock. Red-golden light plays above the nude, muscular bodies. The dazzling light appears to herald the approaching miracle and with it, the presence of God. Enveloped in a light violet cloak, Moses stands upright, his face raised to heaven. In his right hand, he holds the stick that will strike the stone a moment later.
The baroque force and compositional density of this "chef d'œuvre", demonstrated in the vivid representation of the bodies and of the human emotions, show the painter at the height of his early mastery.