Moses receiving the Ten Commandments
Oil on canvas
237 x 233 cm
As the apotheosis of the cycle devoted to illustrating Genesis and Exodus, this table – bathed in yellow light signifying the divine presence – shows the moment that seals the Union with God. It hinges on a double diagonal like a Baroque painting. One features the figure of Moses in the foreground, thrust towards the Commandments held out by God. The painter obeys the prohibition to depict God, who is simply presented, as the Bible says, by two hands extending from the clouds.
The second diagonal represents the mountain where Moses stands and separates several scenes. All along the bottom are characters from the Bible, with Aaron as High Priest, David and Jeremiah, and at the top, close to God, is a group of fleeing Jews. On the left, some of the Hebrews are waiting for Moses while another has turned away from him in adoration of the golden calf. Right at the top, an entwined couple and izbas recall episodes in Chagall’s own life, who once again ties his history in with the Jewish people’s.
Moses is dressed in white and rays of light burst forth from his forehead – a specific sign mentioned in the Bible only after his encounter with God on the mountain top, during the episode illustrated here. But Chagall borrows from icon art the ever identical portrayal of figures which allows for their immediate recognition.