Alexandre Cabanel - The Death of Moses

by Alexandra Tuschka


In 1640, at only 16 years old, Cabanel began his studies at the Paris Academy and was awarded a scholarship of sorts to Rome, where he studied for five years after the old masters. To prove his skills, Cabanel sent this work back to Paris. Here he still clearly shows his closeness to academic teaching. The work was very well received by the Academy. Napoleon III was also one of the painter's clients. 

The work shows the dying Moses on Mount Nebo. In the background is the promised land of Cana, which Moses was not allowed to enter during his lifetime. Here, however, it is referred to rather symbolically, in that it allows a wide view and also reveals a vein of water fertility, but it lacks the idealized representation of other artists of this subject and remains poor in detail. Moses willingly surrenders to his fate with his arms open. He is clearly recognizable by his ancestral attribute , the two rays of light. God the Father personally picks up Moses, they are almost on a par with each other. Both are accompanied by all kinds of angels and Putti, which support the scene actively. Three already older ones with different clothes wrap Moses in cloths; many smaller ones, without wings, carry God the Father in and out of the picture. Only the bright glow of light around God's head betrays his holiness. Cabanel may have been inspired by Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam" in his depiction of the drapery and muscular bodies. Raphael's "Vision of Ezekiel," which Cabanel was demonstrably familiar with, is also clearly evident in the composition. Possibly this also inspired the choice of the subject of the painting, since "The Death of Moses" is an exceptionally rarely chosen moment in Old Testament history. 


Alexandre Cabanel - The Death of Moses

Oil on canvas, 1851, 140 x 204 cm, Dahesh Museum of Art in New York