(b. 1494, Firenze, d. 1540, Paris)

Moses Defending the Daughters of Jethro

Oil on canvas, 160 x 117 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Among Rosso's paintings concerned with the representation of themes belonging to the religious iconographical tradition, this painting is a very special case, not least due to the rarity of the subject. The title of the painting refers to an episode of Moses's youth narrated in the book of Exodus (II, 16-22). The seven daughters of Jethro, priest of the land of Midian, while drawing water from a well and filling troughs to water their father's flock, are troubled by a group of Midianite shepherds who take advantage of the labours of the young women to water their own herds. Moses, sitting near the well, witnesses the scene; driving the Midianites away with threats he intervenes physically in defence of Jethro's daughters who thanks to his help can finally water their flocks. In recognition of the meritorious action performed by the young Moses, Jethro gives him the hand of one of his daughters, Zipporah.

There are unequivocal references in the painting to the two cartoons made by Michelangelo and Leonardo for the decoration of the Great Council Hall in Palazzo della Signoria. Rosso's canvas reproposes the extremely articulated compositional structure of Michelangelo's Battle of Cascina, displaying a broad range of nude figure poses which reflect the artist's predilection for counterpoise. The emphasizing of gestures and clothing, and the impassioned savagery of the actions and expressions, on the other hand, are associated with Leonardo's Battle of Anghiari.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 5 minutes):
Gioacchino Rossini: Moses, Moses' Prayer