Sébastien Bourdon was one of the twelve founding members of the Royal Academy of Painting and his Finding of Moses embodies the principles of seventeenth-century academic art, which showed the influence of Poussin.

The book of Exodus (2:5) recounts how a Hebrew woman saved her infant son from Pharoah's massacre of Hebrew children by placing him in a basket on the Nile. Pharoah's daughter, while bathing on the banks of the river, found the child, adopted him, and named him Moses. In Bourdon's composition, Pharoah's daughter, dressed in yellow, occupies the central vertical axis of the painting, supported on her left by her ladies in waiting. The figures form a frieze, like antique sculptures, across the foreground plane. They are dressed according to the seventeenth-century concept of ancient costume and placed in a fanciful setting with Egyptian palm trees.

The careful division of the composition into three parallel planes of space recalls the principles of symmetry and order propounded by the Academy. The dignified gestures -- especially that of the princess -- and expressions of the figures tell the story in a way considered appropriate to the event, but the work is also enlivened by vivid color and clarifying light. Bourdon based his composition on earlier works of the same subject by Poussin.


  • Title: The Finding of Moses
  • Creator: Sébastien Bourdon
  • Date Created: c. 1655/1660
  • Physical Dimensions: overall: 119.6 x 172.8 cm (47 1/16 x 68 1/16 in.) framed: 161.3 x 209.6 x 8.6 cm (63 1/2 x 82 1/2 x 3 3/8 in.)
  • Provenance: Possibly Adriaen Paets II [1657-1712], Rotterdam; possibly (his sale, Rotterdam, 26 April 1713, no. 19).[1] Possibly François Antoine Robit [c. 1752-1815], Paris; (exhibition and sale, including Robit collection, by private contract, Mr. [Michael] Bryan's Gallery, London, 6 November 1801 and following days [exhibition closed 31 May 1802], no. 44).[2] Arthur L. Nicholson, London and Llandaff House, Surrey, by 1937 until at least 1939.[3] (Paul Drey, New York); sold 1948 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[4] gift 1961 to NGA. [1] Pierre Rosenberg, Guido Jansen, and Jeroen Giltaij, _French Paintings from Dutch Collections, 1600-1800_, exh. cat., Musée des beaux-arts, Dijon; Institut nederlandais, Paris; Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Rotterdam, 1992: 21, 35: "Een Stuk, door Sebastiaen Bourdon, zeer excellent, verbeeldende de Vindinge Van Moises in den Nyl, hoog 3 voet 9 duim breed 5 voet 4 duim" ("A piece by Sebastien Bourdon, very excellent, illustrating the Finding of Moses in the Nile, measuring 3 feet, 9 inches high and 5 feet 4 inches wide"). This entry appears in the Paets sale of 26 April 1713; see Gerard Hoet, _Catalogus of naamlyst van schilderyen, met derzelver pryzen, zedert een langen reeks van jaaren zoo in Holland als op andere plaatzen in het openbaar verkogt, benevens een verzameling van lysten van verscheyden nog in wezen zynde cabinetten_, 3 vols., Soest : Davaco, 1976 (reprint of the 1752-1770 ed.): 1:156, no. 19. The measurements, given according to the Rhineland Scale, are approximately 118 x 168 centimeters. [2] "_The Finding of Moses_ by Sébastien Bourdon," sold by the dealer Bryan in London in 1801, in a sale which included works from the Robit collection, may be NGA 1961.9.65, but we have no evidence beyond the artist's name and the title. See Colin Eisler, _Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian_, Oxford, 1977: 289-290. [3] Nicholson lent the painting to the 1937 Paris and 1939 Liège exhibitions. [4] See The Kress Collection Digital Archive, https://kress.nga.gov/Detail/objects/2172.
  • Medium: oil on canvas

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