Both this canvas and Moses and the Brazen Serpent (also in the Colección Santander) are major and characteristic works within the oeuvre of the well known 17th-century Valencian painter Esteban (“Esteve”) March.
The influence of the work of the Bassano family, to whose circle these two canvases were formerly attributed, reached March via his teacher, the Murcian painter Pedro Orrente, who trained in Venice in the studio of Leandro Bassano.
This canvas depicts the moment when Moses comes down from Mount Sinai and finds the Israelites worshipping the golden calf made from their own jewels. According to the biblical account, “Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands and brake them beneath the mount” (Exodus 32, 19).
The composition centres around the column on which the golden calf has been erected. It is surrounded by the Israelites kneeling in adoration while Moses, who raises the tablets in order to cast them onto the ground, is outlined in powerful backlighting against the stormy sky.
Depicted in the upper left corner is the episode that takes place immediately prior to this one in which the kneeling Moses receives the Tablets of the Law from Yahweh.
The panoramic setting, with the tents of the wandering Israelites, is painted in the warm brown tonality typical of this artist. The figures, executed with short, agitated brushstrokes, are particularly characteristic of his distinctive style.