THE HAGUE.- The Mauritshuis
has acquired the exceptional history painting, Moses and Pharaohs Crown by Jan Steen (1626-1679), from a private collection. The museum already owns a superb collection of fourteen paintings by Steen, including undisputed highlights such as Girl Eating Oysters and As the Old Sing, So Twitter The Young. Until now, however, a history painting by Steen was lacking, so Moses and Pharaohs Crown represents a very welcome addition to the Mauritshuiss collection. The skilfully painted canvas depicts a little-known episode from the childhood of Moses and demonstrates Jan Steens exceptional talent as a storyteller.
The new acquisition has been made possible thanks to the support of the BankGiro Lottery and will be on display as part of the exhibition Spice of Life: Jan Steen in the Mauritshuis (3 March 13 June 2011).
A Dream Acquisition
Jan Steens paintings are at once familiar, humorous and extremely varied. He is best known as a painter of everyday life for his comic depictions of chaotic households, merrymaking at an inn, charlatans and amorous young girls. But Steen also produced around seventy history paintings, in which he depicted a wide range of stories from Classical mythology and the Bible.
Mauritshuis Director Emilie Gordenker is delighted with the acquisition: The Mauritshuis collection had, until now, been missing a history painting by this important Dutch Golden Age painter. This magnificent painting enables us to show that Jan Steen was also a first-rate painter of history pieces.
An Apocryphal Tale
The painting depicts an episode from the childhood of Moses that does not appear in the Bible. We see the prophet as a whimpering toddler, seeking refuge in the arms of his foster mother. Behind the child, the pharaoh sits slumped on his throne as an advisor bends forward and whispers in his ear. As related in the story, Moses had trampled on the pharaohs crown whilst playing. As a result the pharaohs advisors wanted him dead, believing to have seen in him an enemy of the Egyptian Empire. But the young boy was given a last chance to prove his innocence: in a test he chose a burning coal over a dish of gold and burned himself by placing the coal in his mouth.
The trampling of the pharaohs crown by the young Moses appears only sporadically in seventeenth-century painting. In Moses and Pharaohs Crown, Jan Steen has chosen to depict the outcome of the story. Moses, his foster mother and the pharaoh are immediately recognisable as the protagonists thanks to the shimmering satin of their clothing and the attention that has been lavished on their poses and facial expressions. By intentionally painting the secondary figures in a more schematic manner and in dark colours, Steen has literally and figuratively placed them in the background of the scene.