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Pharaoh's Daughter Receives the Mother of Moses

James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902)

Pharaoh's Daughter Receives the Mother of Moses, c. 1896-1902

  • Gouache on board
  • 8 5/8 x 10 7/16 in. (22.5 x 26.5 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Gift of the heirs of Jacob Schiff, X1952-146

Not on view

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Pharaoh's Daughter Receives the Mother of Moses

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Pharaoh's Daughter Receives the Mother of Moses

This is one of nearly four hundred paintings by James Jacques Joseph Tissot that depicts a story from the Hebrew Bible. Here Tissot has painted an image based on the story of Moses. The first chapter of the Book of Exodus ends with a decree by the Egyptian pharaoh that all male Israelite children be drowned in the Nile River. Chapter 2 continues:

    And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived, and bore a son; and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch; and she put the child therein, and laid it in the flags by the river's brink. And his sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to him. And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe in the river; and her maidens walked along by the river-side; and she saw the ark among the flags, and sent her handmaid to fetch it. And she opened it, and saw it, even the child; and behold a boy that wept. And she had compassion on him, and said: “This is one of the Hebrews' children.” Then said his sister to Pharaoh's daughter: “Shall I go and call thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?” And Pharaoh's daughter said to her: “Go.” And the maiden went and called the child's mother. And Pharaoh's daughter said unto her: “Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” And the woman took the child, and nursed it. And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses, and said: “Because I drew him out of the water.” (Exodus 2:1–10)

This painting shows Moses as a baby in a basket among the bulrushes. On the left stands Pharaoh’s daughter with her handmaidens; on the right, Moses’ sister Miriam and his mother Yoheved bow down before the princess.

Tissot based his biblical works on sketches he made of the landscape, archaeology, and people of the Middle East. His travels to Israel (then Palestine) and surrounding areas in 1886 had been prompted by his decision to illustrate the life of Jesus. He wanted to observe the landscape where the biblical narrative originated, research archaeological sites, and study ethnological details in order to produce a historically accurate visual recreation of the world of the Bible. In Jerusalem, he consulted rabbis on aspects of Jewish ritual. In Egypt, he sketched monuments and artifacts.

Tissot made an additional trip to Israel in 1896 to gather material for a series of drawings illustrating the Hebrew Bible. This project occupied much of the artist's time until his death in 1902. More than half the works in this series were completed posthumously by other artists. After its publication in 1904, the “Hebrew Bible” suite toured the United States for several years.

Tissot produced two large bodies of paintings—nearly four hundred drawings— devoted to the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament during the last two decades of his career. These met with enormous public success and were subsequently published.

Sources:

Berger, Maurice, and Joan Rosenbaum, eds. Masterworks of The Jewish Museum. New York: The Jewish Museum; New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004.

Tate Online

University of Glasgow: The Correspondence of James McNeill Whistler