National Gallery acquires Orazio Gentileschi painting The Finding of Moses

  • Published 18 December 2019

The work, which is of outstanding importance for the national heritage, has been saved for the nation thanks to a crowdfunding campaign and support from Art Fund.

Director of the National Gallery Gabriele Finaldi hosts a The Finding of Moses storytelling session © The National Gallery

Director of the National Gallery Gabriele Finaldi hosts a The Finding of Moses storytelling session

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© The National Gallery

For almost 20 years, the public has been able to enjoy Orazio Gentileschi painting The Finding of Moses at the National Gallery, but the work wasn’t owned by the institution: it was on loan from a private collection. Following a public appeal and support from Art Fund, the National Gallery has acquired the painting. This means the work will now stay on free display in Trafalgar Square, for the enjoyment of future generations.

The Finding of Moses has an exceptional place in British history, as it is one of just a handful of works painted during Orazio Gentileschi’s 12-year residence in London at the court of King Charles I. The painting has been an acquisition priority for the National Gallery since 1995, when they first attempted to buy it. This has now been made possible thanks to the hundreds of members of the public who have donated to help raise the last £2m needed.

The acquisition has also been possible thanks to grants of £1m from Art Fund, £2.5m from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, £8.5m from The American Friends of the National Gallery, and £5m from The National Gallery Trust.

Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639), father of the now widely known Artemisia, was one of the leading figures of the Italian Baroque. Born in Pisa, Orazio enjoyed an international career working across Italy, as well as in Paris and London. While working for Queen Marie de’ Medici in Paris, Orazio met George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, who invited him to assume a position at the court of Charles I.

Of all Orazio’s royal commissions, The Finding of Moses is the most ambitious. It was commissioned to celebrate the birth of the future Charles II and intended to hang in the Queen’s House at Greenwich. Its beauty and refinement are characteristic of the artist’s late style, but it is the painting’s monumental scale (measuring 257 x 301cm), extraordinary ambition and historical importance that sets the painting apart.

The work depicts the biblical story of the Finding of Moses, a popular subject during the Baroque period. In this story, the infant Moses had been placed by his mother in a basket and hidden, following Pharaoh’s edict that all new-born sons of Hebrews should be killed. While Moses’s sister Miriam hid nearby, Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby and proposed to take him back to the palace. The painting depicts the moment when Miriam comes forward and volunteers her own – and Moses’s – mother as nursemaid to the child.

Dr Stephen Deuchar, director, Art Fund, said: ‘Orazio Gentileschi’s The Finding of Moses is a masterpiece of visual brilliance and epic storytelling, whose acquisition Art Fund’s trustees supported with £1million – one of only a handful of grants of this magnitude we have ever given. Our enthusiasm is clearly shared by everyone who has donated to the Gallery’s public appeal. Together we have secured its place on the walls of the National Gallery where it will be enjoyed by everyone, forever.’