The Adoration of the Golden Calf
The French Baroque Era painter Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665), in large part, perfected the ideal or heroic landscape.
The Israelites were wandering in the Sinai desert after leaving Egypt where they had been slaves. They found water in rocks. They were told not to return to Israel.
Their leader, Moses, left them when he climbed Mount Sinai to receive the two stone tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments. The Hebrews soon forgot about Moses. They asked his brother Aaron to give them idols to worship. Aaron melted down their gold jewellery and ornaments and made a golden calf which he placed on an altar. Poussin picked up the Old Testament story at this point with Moses descending from the mountain. A series of dancers in suspended animation form the central point of interest, before the Golden Calf. They match in reverse, an identical group of dancing figures in another Poussin painting, A Bacchanalian Revel, also in the National Gallery, London. Aaron, a white cloaked priest, gestures towards Moses. Other faces look anxiously towards the figure of Moses; close by a group of tents suggests the Israelites status as exiles. The red, blue and golden yellow robes of three figures low down, in the bottom right foreground are repeated in the figures dancing round the Golden Calf on the left. The white of Aaron's robe is matched to the figure nearest to him, arm raised, pointing outwards from the dance. The golden yellow of the idol is pitched against,the rose pinks and blues of the sky.
The painting was badly vandalised and in 1978 Arthur Lucas pieced it together in a much admired restoration at the Gallery.