The Finding of Moses, ca. 1695-97
Oil on canvas
43 7/8 x 57 1/4 in. (111.5 x 145.5 cm)
R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund and Friends of Art Endowment Fund, 1978
The Finding of Moses was a popular theme throughout the seventeenth century, often selected for its decorative potential: it offered artists the opportunity to depict a company of elegant and exotically clad women within a biblical context.
Coypel has not chosen the more commonly depicted moment of the subject, when the infant Moses is discovered at the edge of the Nile by the Pharaoh's daughter (Exodus 1), but the ensuing scene, when the princess, guided by Moses's sister Miriam, appoints his natural mother as his nurse (Exodus 2:1-9).
This painting is one of a series of relatively small-scale history paintings representing scenes from the Old Testament that the artist produced during the mid to late 1690s. 1 In contrast to his earlier paintings done under the patronage of Philippe, Duc d'Orleans, and other members of the French court, these works were painted independently for wealthy and influential Parisian amateurs. 2 Most were exhibited publicly in the Paris Salons, and several were reproduced as tapestries or in engravings, which immeasurably enhanced the artist's reputation. 3
This group of Old Testament paintings also represents the culmination of a stylistic transformation in Coypel's work, which Schnapper has termed "a crisis of Rubenism." 4 From the early 1690s, Coypel attempted to affect in his work a synthesis of two competing academic theories, one emphasizing the importance of line and draftsmanship ("Poussinism") and the other favoring the merits of color ("Rubenism"). Coypel united the two aesthetics most successfully in The Finding of Moses and the other historical paintings of this series.
The composition of the Oberlin Finding of Moses is indebted to Nicolas Poussin's interpretations of the subject, two of which were present in the Royal Collection in Paris when Coypel painted this scene. 5 Poussin's version of 1647 almost certainly inspired the background landscape and architecture, and also provided the source for specific motifs. 6 Poussin's Finding of Moses of 1638, on the other hand, is recalled in the gesture made by the princess and the horizontal grouping of her attendants. 7 However transparent these borrowings may be, Coypel transforms them with the skill of a master colorist and avid Rubenist, as evidenced in the animated composition and the rich, saturated palette. For example, the lush landscape setting, unusually expansive scenically for Coypel, provides a foil for the brilliant hues of the women's garments. Coypel uses standardized facial expressions to convey the varied emotional content of the narrative. He introduces the motif of the Golden Calf, just visible atop the massive pillar at the center of the composition, as a portent of Moses's adult role as spiritual leader of the Israelites.
No preparatory drawings have been found which relate specifically to this picture, although a few sketches have been linked to individual figures. 8
The earliest reference to the Oberlin Finding of Moses is in the livret accompanying its exhibition in the Paris Salon of 1699, but based on comparison with more securely dated works, Garnier has dated the painting a few years earlier, to about 1696-97. 9 A copy of the painting (reduced in size to 72 x 94 cm) was on the Paris art market in 1981, with Esther and Ahasuerus as pendant. Another, smaller version of the subject with only five figures was listed in the inventory of the estate of the artist's son Philippe Coypel, 11 April 1777; and in the posthumous sale of this collection, Paris, 1777, no. 11. 10
M. E. Wieseman
Antoine Coypel was the eldest son of the painter Noël Coypel (1628-1707). He was trained by his father, and accompanied him to Rome when the latter assumed his post as head of the Académie de France in Rome (1673-75). Antoine became a member of the Académie in Paris in 1681, and a professor at the Académie in 1684. Thanks to the early and influential patronage of the Duc d'Orléans, he embarked almost immediately on a brilliant official career, and in 1716 was appointed Premier Peintre du Roi. In addition to easel paintings depicting historical and mythological subjects, Coypel also received several prestigious commissions for decorative works in Paris and at Versailles. He was an especially refined colorist; his elegant compositions combine the rich palette of Correggio or Rubens with the dramatic grandeur of Charles LeBrun. Antoine Coypel's half brother Noël-Nicolas (1690-1734) and son Charles-Antoine (1694-1752) were also painters.
Garnier, Nicole. Antoine Coypel, 1661-1722. Paris, 1989.
European private collection
With Heim Gallery, London (by 1977), from whom purchased in 1978
Paris, Salon, 1699.
Paris, Salon, 1704.
London, Heim Gallery, 1977. Aspects of French Academic Art 1680-1780. Summer. Cat. no. 5.
New York, Stair Sainty Matthiesen, 1985. The First Painters of the King: French Royal Taste from Louis XIVto the Revolution. 16 October - 22 November (also shown at New Orleans Museum of Art and Columbus, Ohio, Columbus Museum of Art). Cat. no. 109.
Williamstown, Mass., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1987. A Glimpse of Rococo France: The Amorous Proposal. 4 April - 13
June. Cat. no. 4.
Réflexions sur quelque ouvrages de M. Coypel, Premier Peintre du S. A. R. Monsieur, frère du Roi. Troyes, n.d. (before 1700).
Le Comte, Florent. Cabinet des singularités. Vol. 3. Paris, 1700, p. 212.
Guiffrey, J. J., ed. Collection des livrets des anciennes expositions...exposition de 1699. Paris, 1869, p. 19.
Guiffrey, J. J., ed. Collection des livrets des anciennes expositions...exposition de 1704. Paris, 1869, p. 21.
Marcel, Pierre. La Peinture française au début du XVIIe siècle. Paris, 1906, p. 223.
Thieme, Ulrich, and Felix Becker, eds. Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antieke bis zur Gegenwart. Vol. 8. Leipzig, 1913, p. 26.
Dimier, Louis. Les Peintres français du XVIIIe siècle. Paris and Brussels, 1928, p. 149, no. 4 (as lost, known only through engraving).
Wildenstein, Daniel. "L'Oeuvre gravé des Coypel, II." Gazette des Beaux-Arts, ser. 6, vol. 64 (September 1964), p. 142, under no. 6 (wrongly described as having been engraved by Coypel himself).
Aspects of French Academic Art 1680-1780. Exh. cat., Heim Gallery, London, 1977, cat. no. 5.
Schnapper, Antoine. "The Moses of Antoine Coypel." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 37, no. 2 (1979-80), pp. 59-67.
Bailey, Colin B. The First Painters of the King: French Royal Taste from Louis XIV to the Revolution. Exh. cat., Stair Sainty Matthiesen, New York, 1985, pp. 65-67, cat. no. 5.
A Glimpse of Rococo France. Exh. cat., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass., 1987, fig. 1.
The painting was relined in the mid twentieth century, replacing a glue lining with a wax-resin lining. The relining process flattened the paint surface, and placed undue emphasis on the texture of the canvas weave. The original tacking margins have been removed, although cusping at all edges indicates that the painted surface itself has not been trimmed. The paint is applied over a reddish-brown ground. The paint surface is somewhat abraded, and fairly thin in the sky and background landscape. There are scattered restorations throughout, most notably in the faces of the shadowy figures at the center of the composition and in the landscape and water at right. A pentiment reveals that a cloud was painted out in the sky at upper right.
1. See Antoine Schnapper, "The Moses of Antoine Coypel," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 37, no. 2 (1979-80), pp. 64-65 and 69-70; and Nicole Garnier, Antoine Coypel, 1661-1722 (Paris, 1989), pp. 20-21, and cat. nos. 53-60, 64.
2. It is not known for whom this painting may have been executed, or who may have originally owned it. The dedication of the engraving of the painting to Cardinal César d'Estrées (1628-1714), an early supporter of the artist, suggests that the painting may have been in his collection at that time. See Colin B. Bailey, The First Painters of the King: French Royal Taste from Louis XIV to the Revolution (exh. cat., Stair Sainty Matthiesen, New York, 1985), p. 66.
3. The Finding of Moses was engraved by Jean Audran; see Daniel Wildenstein, "L'Oeuvre gravé des Coypel, II," Gazette des Beaux-Arts, ser. 6, vol. 64 (September 1964) p. 142, under no. 6 (wrongly described as having been engraved by Coypel himself).
4. Antoine Schnapper, "The Moses of Antoine Coypel," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 37, no. 2 (1979-80), p. 61.
5. See Antoine Schnapper, "The Moses of Antoine Coypel," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 37, no. 2 (1979-80), p. 66; and also, more extensively, Colin B. Bailey, The First Painters of the King: French Royal Taste from Louis XIV to the Revolution (exh. cat., Stair Sainty Matthiesen, New York, 1985), p. 66.
6. Oil on canvas, 120 x 195 cm, Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. 7272. The cistern, for example, which lies on the ground in the left foreground in the Poussin and hangs on the tree at the far right in the Coypel, has been interpreted by Dempsey as a liturgical instrument that identifies the princess and her retinue as priestesses of the Egyptian goddess Isis, and alludes to the nurturing of the new order (i.e., Moses) by the old; Charles Dempsey, "Poussin and Egypt," The Art Bulletin 45 (1963), p. 114. I am grateful to Richard Spear for drawing my attention to this reference.
7. Oil on canvas, 93.5 x 121 cm, Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. 7271; engraved by Mariette in 1692. 8. See Antoine Schnapper, "The Moses of Antoine Coypel," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 37, no. 2 (1979-80), p. 66 n. 24; and Colin B. Bailey, The First Painters of the King: French Royal Taste from Louis XIV to the Revolution (exh. cat., Stair Sainty Matthiesen, New York, 1985), p. 66.
9. Nicole Garnier, Antoine Coypel, 1661-1722 (Paris, 1989), p. 132.
10. Paris, Archives Nationales, Minutier Central des Notaires, 462, no. 103; and oil on canvas, 2 pieds x 2 pieds 6 pouces (ca. 65 x 81.2 cm), respectively; see Nicole Garnier, Antoine Coypel, 1661-1722 (Paris, 1989), p. 132.