Moses and the burning bush
Oil on canvas
195 x 312 cm
Composed in the form of a frieze, three slightly oblique figures emphasise the two founding episodes of Moses’ story. These should be read in the way Hebrew text is: Moses, on the right, has fallen to his knees before the burning bush that does not wither. The divine mission – leading the Hebrews out of Egypt – is announced to him by an angel floating in the middle of a coloured circle, which is both reminiscent of the mandorlas that highlight divine presence on the pediment of Romanesque churches, and a throwback to Delaunay’s Orphism.
On the left, the scene of the parting of the Red Sea shows Moses leading the Jewish people in a close-knit file in his cloak, Here again, mediaeval reappearances of Virgins of mercy sheltering believers in their cloak show Chagall’s interest in old religious imagery. The wave closing in behind him – which also alludes to the divine cloud – protects their progress from Pharaoh’s army, whose anger is expressed in red and frenetic movements. Chagall has painted this scene time and again – here in its narrowest form, a clear illustration of painting as metaphor, the invention of which André Breton attributed to the artist.