(active c. 1150)

Moses and the Burning Bush

c. 1150
Stained glass, 53 x 51 cm
Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster

This stained glass pane comes from the former Premonstratensian Abbey at Arnstein on the Lahn (near Coblenz in the Rhineland). At the base of the pane the self-portrait of the glass-painter Gerlachus can be seen with the accompanying inscription: "O illustrious King of Kings, be favourable to Gerlachus."

The pane with the self-portrait of Gerlachus is one of the most important examples of medieval glass painting in Germany. Master Gerlachus, with brush and paint-pot in his hands, bearded, is presumably a layman in the service of the monastery. He created the whole of the multi-part pictorial programme that extends across the five windows that were once in the west choir of the monastery church in Arnstein on the Lahn. Only five of the original 15 panes are still extant.

Here, in the lowest pane of one of the windows, he has claimed one field of the picture for himself. It has a round arch and is fitted in such a way that it repeats on a small scale the shape of the window itself. The framing yellow inscription provides for both demarcation and integration.

The main theme depicted in the pane is Moses and the Burning Bush with the appearance of God, as recorded in Exodus 3:2-4. In his left hand Moses is holding the staff which God transformed into a serpent and back into a staff; in front of him he has placed his shoes, which he has taken off at God's bidding.

The heads of Moses and God are, apart from the differences in their haloes, much the same. The medieval beholder knew in any case that physical likeness was not important here, particularly as the Old Testament text refers to God's presence as only a "voice" in the flames, and not as a visible bodily apparition. Matching figures to external nature was not a criterion for medieval art, least of all in respect of individual comparisons. What was important was the significance of the type. Moses and the divine voice exist here simply as signs represented in human form.