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Barbarini Family, Rome, c. 17th century
Charles Mather Ffoulke, 1889-1909
Museum purchase, California Palace of the Legion of Honor
The powerful, troubled figure of Moses, the God-inspired leader, stirred the imagination of Renaissance artists. His story is a sequence of divine interventions. The miracle of the manna that saved the Israelites from starvation in the wilderness became a symbol of God’s providence. The passage of the Red Sea lay behind the Israelites, but a pitiless desert stretched before them and they murmured against Moses and Aaron because they had no food. God fulfilled his promise to “rain bread from heaven” (Exodus 16:4). In the morning manna covered the ground, white like coriander seed with the taste of wafers made from honey. God gave careful instructions for its harvesting. An omer (about three and a half quarts) was to be gathered for each person daily, and a double amount to be taken on the sixth day, for no manna would fall on the Sabbath (Exodus 16:22-26). The large figure of Aaron on the left points toward the Israelites who have gathered manna in containers of every kind. One can see tents dotting the hills, some grazing cattle, and a camel. Moses, at right, identified by his rod, holds up two fingers of his right hand, a reminder to gather the double amount on the sixth day. A man and woman in the center foreground fill an ornate vessel with the miraculous food. Narrow interlacing ribbon bands on either side of the floral border have a red ground here as on all three Moses panels. Variations occur in the border elements. The left-hand corner figure is familiar. The group on the right resembles the traditional representation of Charity: a mother nursing a small child. The central position is occupied by a satyr father, nymph mother, and satyr child. Dr. Schneebalg-Perelman attributed the weaver’s mark found in the right guard to Pieter van Aelst the Younger. She reasons that the older van Aelst, who wove The Acts of the Apostles for Pope Leo X, would have been a centenarian in 1550. From Anna Gray Bennett, "Five Centuries of Tapestry: The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco" (San Francisco: Chronicle Books; The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1976; repr. 1992): p. 122.