Rembrandt - Moses Smashing the Tablets of the Law

by Alexandra Tuschka


At first sight, you might think: Rembrandt! - Is there any other color spectrum besides brown tones? But this is deceptive, because time has increasingly darkened the painting and distorted the originally intensely colored pigments.

Nevertheless, the Dutch genius still manages to impressively capture the pain and anger of Moses. When he descends from Mount Sinai and notices after a long absence that his people worship an idol - a golden calf - he is overcome by his emotions and smashes the tablets of the law. Admittedly, the question is open for discussion whether here not another moment could be meant, namely the presentation of the same. Against this thesis speak - apart from the facial expression of the protagonist - also findings of professional picture analyses of the museum. In addition, there is an easily overlooked indication: the hair on Moses' head has the shape of horns and could provide information about the moment depicted. For since the 12th century, there is evidence of portraits in which Moses is seen with two horns on his head. This goes back to the tradition that his face should have shone during the descent from the mountain of God. In Hebrew, the word "queren" means to shine, but the Latin Bible translation Vulgate made it "horned forehead" because of the word similarities.


Rembrandt chooses a frontal three-quarter figure against an undefined washed-out and dynamic background. Moses' face is brightly lit, and two horns are indistinctly visible on his head. His position directly in front of the viewer with his arms raised and the heavy, dark plate of the law lends the scene particular drasticness. The Hebrew lettering on the panel is clearly visible. The rounded shape is based on contemporary law tablets in the Netherlands.


Rembrandt - Moses Smashing the Tablets of the Law

Oil on canvas, 1659, 168.5 × 136.5 cm, Gemäldegalerie in Berlin

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