Moses Striking the Rock

Abraham Bloemaert (Netherlandish, Gorinchem 1566–1651 Utrecht)

Oil on canvas
31 3/8 x 42 1/2 in. (79.7 x 108 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Gift of Mary V. T. Eberstadt, by exchange, 1972
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    Bloemaert worked in Utrecht and taught many of the leading artists of that city during the course of his long career. This painting is characteristic of the mannerist style which he adopted in the last decade of the sixteenth century. In the middle ground at the left Moses strikes the rock to provide water for the Israelites in the desert. The subject is an Old Testament prototype for salvation through baptism, and the woman with a jug may embody the saving properties of water.

  • Catalogue Entry

    In Bloemaert's version of the Old Testament subject (Exod. 17:1–6), the children of Israel march out of Egypt either naked or provocatively dressed, and weighed down with earthenware pots, copper-lined cookware, and, in the arms of the young woman at center, a silver-gilt ewer dating from the late sixteenth century. That graceful figure's prominence led Broos (1990) to suggest that the artist's subject is really Aqua, an allegory of water. This is highly unlikely, given the absence of paintings by Bloemaert depicting the other three elements, and the fact that every motif in the composition, including the central figure, is consistent with the episode described in Exodus. Moses, in the left background, is shown just after having struck the rock, and his followers are in the first throes of responding to the miracle. People bend and stretch extravagantly in an effort to contain the lifesaving flow of water.

    The central figure has been compared with the heroine in Vasari's Andromeda, and the man in the left foreground with bending bathers in Michelangelo's Cascina cartoon. The Florentine roots of Dutch Mannerist figure types are well known. But more relevant to the Museum's picture is Bloemaert's knowledge of the decorations at Fontainebleau, especially Primaticcio's stucco caryatids (1541–44) in the Chambre de la Duchesse d'Étampes, whose gracefully raised arms, sinuous contrapposto, and the elegant ewer at one maiden's feet suggest that Bloemaert's memory of the palace, filtered through his more immediate experience of prints by and after Goltzius (who like Primaticcio emulated Parmigianino), informed the female figure types and poses in this design. The extraordinary display of fancy fabric, however, is typical of Bloemaert. On the whole, Bloemaert's composition may be described as an original invention inspired by an eclectic survey of recent Dutch Mannerist forms. The intended viewer was an experienced connoisseur.

    As noted by several scholars, a drawing in the Musée du Louvre (inv. no. 20.483) appears to be a copy of a preparatory drawing by Bloemaert for this composition. The right half of the drawing, including the main figure, is largely in agreement with the painted design, but the two most prominent figures to the left are quite differently posed (although they play the same roles), and the cow is not yet present.

    [2011; adapted from Liedtke 2007]

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): A·Blomaert·fe / ao·1596

  • Provenance

    ?Jan Vincent Coster, Amsterdam (in 1622); John Andrews (until 1832; his estate sale, Christie's, London, March 3, 1832, no. 65, for £8.8 to Tuck); Isidor Sachs, Vienna (until d. 1871; his estate sale, Posonyi, Vienna, December 17, 1872, no. 97); [H. O. Miethke, Vienna, about 1889–92]; Carl Franze, Tetschen (until 1916; posthumous sale, Lepke's, Berlin, November 7, 1916, no. 63); Prof. Curt Glaser, Berlin (by 1928–33; his anonymous sale, Internationales Kunst- und Auktions-Haus, Berlin, May 9, 1933, no. 241, to Gurlitt); [Wolfgang Gurlitt, Munich, 1933–at least 1962]; [Adolphe Stein, Paris, until 1965; sold for $8,000 to Kleinberger]; [Kleinberger, New York, 1965–66; sold to Reid]; Bagley Reid, New York (1966–72; sold to MMA)

  • Exhibition History

    Munich. Galerie Wolfgang Gurlitt. "Meister des Manierismus: Gemälde, Handzeichnungen, Druckgraphik," 1962, no. 8.

    Poughkeepsie. Vassar College Art Gallery. "Dutch Mannerism: Apogee and Epilogue," April 15–June 7, 1970, no. 3 (lent by Mr. Bagley Reid, New York).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Abraham Bloemaert, 1564–1651: Prints and Drawings," September 11–November 4, 1973, no. 1.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Patterns of Collecting: Selected Acquisitions, 1965–1975," December 6, 1975–March 23, 1976, unnumbered cat.

    The Hague. Mauritshuis. "Great Dutch Paintings from America," September 28, 1990–January 13, 1991, no. 8 (as "Moses Striking Water from the Rock [Aqua]").

    Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. "Great Dutch Paintings from America," February 16–May 5, 1991, no. 8 (as "Moses Striking Water from the Rock [Aqua]").

    Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. "Masters of Light: Dutch Painters in Utrecht During the Golden Age," September 13–November 30, 1997, no. 1.

    Baltimore. Walters Art Gallery. "Masters of Light: Dutch Painters in Utrecht During the Golden Age," January 11–April 5, 1998, no. 1.

    London. National Gallery. "Masters of Light: Dutch Painters in Utrecht During the Golden Age," May 6–August 2, 1998, no. 1.

    St. Petersburg, Fla. Museum of Fine Arts. "Abraham Bloemaert (1566–1651) and His Time," January 28–April 8, 2001, no. 3.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.

  • References

    Theodor Frimmel. Kleine Galeriestudien. 1, Bamberg, 1892, p. 120 n. 2, notes that he saw this picture quite recently at H. O. Miethke, Vienna.

    [Theodor von] Fr[immel]. "Neuerwerbungen der Sammlung Matsvanszky in Wien." Blätter für Gemäldekunde 5 (May 1909), p. 67 n. **, states that it was with Miethke twenty years ago and is probably the work that was sold in an auction in Vienna in December 1872.

    Gustav Delbanco. Der Maler Abraham Bloemaert (1564–1651). Strasbourg, 1928, pp. 24–25, 74, no. 8, fig. VIII 1, as in the collection of Prof. C. Glaser, Berlin.

    Catharinus Marius Anne Alettus Lindeman Rijksuniversiteit te Utrecht. De Oorsprong, Ontwikkeling en Beteekenis van het Romanisme in de Nederlandsche Schilderkunst. Utrecht, 1928, p. 233, mentions a drawing in the Louvre which she calls a study for the MMA painting.

    C. M. A. A. Lindeman. Joachim Anthonisz Wtewael. Utrecht, 1929, pp. 120, 233.

    Frits Lugt. Inventaire général des dessins des écoles du nord: école hollandaise. 1, [Paris], 1929, p. 13, under no. 86, mentions it under the entry for the drawing, which he accepts as a study in spite of some weaknesses.

    Marilyn Aronberg Lavin. "An Attribution to Abraham Bloemaert." Oud Holland 80, no. 2 (1965), p. 125, relates the male figure in the foreground at left to similar figures in the artist's "Apollo and Daphne" (Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, Mass.) and "Feast of the Gods" (Alte Pinakothek, Munich).

    Marcel Röthlisberger in 14. Ausstellung. Exh. cat., Galerie Friederike Pallamar. Vienna, 1967, pp. 20–21.

    Mary Lee Bennett and Agnes Mongan. Loan Exhibition: Selections from the Drawing Collection of David Daniels. Exh. cat., Minneapolis Institute of Arts. [Cambridge, Mass.?], 1968, unpaginated, under no. 5.

    Lillian Hill in Dutch Mannerism: Apogee and Epilogue. Exh. cat., Vassar College Art Gallery. Poughkeepsie, 1970, pp. 18–19, no. 3, pl. 38, sees the influence of Spranger, Goltzius, and Cornelis van Haarlem; suggests that the standing female figure in the foreground symbolizes salvation through water; calls the Louvre drawing either a study for or a copy after the MMA painting.

    Leonard J. Slatkes. "Dutch Mannerism." Art Quarterly 33, no. 4 (1970), p. 432, suggests that "it is an autograph replica, perhaps with some studio participation, of a now lost prime version" and adds that the Louvre drawing may be a copy after a lost drawing of the lost original painting; notes that Bloemaert is known to have painted this subject in 1591.

    Marcel Röthlisberger. Letter. June 12, 1972, considers Slatkes's [see Ref. 1970] suggestion that the painting may be a replica unfounded.

    Anne Walter Lowenthal. "Wtewael's 'Moses' and Dutch Mannerism." Studies in the History of Art 6 (1974), pp. 128, 130 n. 13, p. 131, 133, fig. 5.

    John Walsh Jr. "New Dutch Paintings at The Metropolitan Museum." Apollo 99 (May 1974), pp. 340–41, 349 nn. 1–2, fig. 1, illustrates a drawing by Bloemaert of the same subject (Schlossmuseum, Weimar), possibly earlier; calls the Louvre drawing "surely a copy of a lost Bloemaert drawing" but rejects Slatkes's [see Ref. 1970] suggestion that the lost drawing was intended for another lost painting as well as his idea that the MMA painting is a replica of this lost painting.

    Anthony M. Clark in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1965–1975. New York, 1975, p. 92, ill.

    Anne Walter Lowenthal. "The Paintings of Joachim Anthonisz. Wtewael (1566–1638)." PhD diss., Columbia University, New York, 1975, pp. 69, 74, fig. 11.

    Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 276, 278, fig. 498 (color), as "possibly an autograph replica of a lost painting".

    Larry Nichols. "Abraham Bloemaert's 'Christ and the Samaritan Woman'." Pharos 17, no. 1 (1980), p. 6, fig. 1, states that the central female figure "symbolizes salvation through living water since the Old Testament story . . . was understood as a prototype of New Testament baptism".

    Anne W. Lowenthal. Joachim Wtewael and Dutch Mannerism. Doornspijk, The Netherlands, 1986, pp. 69–70, fig. 34, discusses this painting as an example of Bloemaert's style during the 1590s, when there was a close relationship between Bloemaert and Wtewael.

    Peter C. Sutton. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986, pp. 179–80, fig. 254.

    Ben Broos. Great Dutch Paintings from America. Exh. cat., Mauritshuis. The Hague, 1990, pp. 165–68, no. 8, fig. 1 (detail), ill. p. 164 (color), suggests that the subject is actually Aqua, with the central female figure personifying water; relates a drawing by Bloemaert in the Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna, to the standing male figure at right.

    Peter C. Sutton in Ben Broos. "Recent Patterns of Public and Private Collecting of Dutch Art." Great Dutch Paintings from America. Exh. cat., Mauritshuis. The Hague, 1990, p. 104.

    William W. Robinson. Seventeenth-Century Dutch Drawings: A Selection from the Maida and George Abrams Collection. Exh. cat., Rijksprentenkabinet, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Lynn, Mass., 1991, p. 20 n. 3, under no. 1.

    Walter Liedtke in Masterworks from the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1992, p. 95, under no. 11.

    Marcel G. Roethlisberger. Abraham Bloemaert and His Sons: Paintings and Prints. Doornspijk, The Netherlands, 1993, vol. 1, pp. 22, 92–93, no. 46; vol. 2, colorpl. IV, figs. 81–85 (overall and details), lists three lost paintings of this subject by Bloemaert.

    C. J. A. Wansink in The Dictionary of Art. 4, New York, 1996, p. 150.

    Christopher Brown. Utrecht Painters of the Dutch Golden Age. Exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. London, 1997, pp. 22–23, 70, fig. 6 (color) and frontispiece (color detail).

    Gero Seelig in Masters of Light: Dutch Painters in Utrecht During the Golden Age. Exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Baltimore, 1997, pp. 132–35, 271–72, 408, no. 1, ill. (color), relates the kneeling figure seen from the back at left, versions of which also occur in paintings by Cornelis van Haarlem, to one in Michelangelo's "Battle of Cascina"; also discusses derivations from ancient sculpture; rejects Broos's [see Ref. 1990] argument that the subject is actually an allegorical representation of water.

    Joaneath A. Spicer in Masters of Light: Dutch Painters in Utrecht During the Golden Age. Exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Baltimore, 1997, p. 24.

    Peter C. Sutton in Dutch Classicism in Seventeenth-Century Painting. Exh. cat., Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Rotterdam, 1999, p. 124, under no. 15.

    Marcel G. Roethlisberger. "Abraham Bloemaert: Recent Additions to His Paintings." Artibus et Historiae no. 41 (2000), pp. 160–61, fig. 11.

    Marcel G. Roethlisberger and Sally Metzler et al. Abraham Bloemaert (1566–1651) and His Time. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Fla. St. Petersburg, Fla., 2001, pp. 14, 16–17, 19, 30–31, 33, 53, 56, no. 3, ill. p. 38 (color).

    Jaap Bolten. Abraham Bloemaert, c. 1565–1651: The Drawings. [The Netherlands], 2007, vol. 1, pp. 29, 31.

    Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. x, 42–44, no. 9, colorpl. 9.

    Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), pp. 59, 67, fig. 68 (color).

  • Notes

    Roethlisberger (1993) lists three lost paintings by Bloemaert of this subject.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History