The Finding of Moses

Nicolas Poussin

Nicolas Poussin, The Finding of Moses, 1638. Oil on canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris.

This oil painting on canvas by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1666) tells the story of the finding of Moses in the bullrushes. The story of Moses’ birth appears in Exod 2:1-10. The pharaoh of Egypt (perhaps Ramesses II, who ruled in the 13th century B.C.E.) had decreed that Hebrew boys be drowned at birth. In order to save her child’s life, Moses’ mother places her baby in a papyrus basket, coated with tar and pitch, amid the reeds and bulrushes along the Nile, hoping that someone will find him. The basket floats down the river and stops outside Pharaoh’s palace, where Pharaoh’s daughter hears the crying baby and takes him to raise as her own.

As was common in paintings of the period, Poussin has depicted his figures in classical clothing. The river looks as though it could be the Tiber in Rome, rather than the Nile, owing to the style of the figures and the bridge in the background. The pyramid in the distance is the only indication that the tableau is set in Egypt.