Sandro Botticelli
Temptation of Moses, Bearer of the Written Law

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Sandro Botticelli, Temptation of Moses, Bearer of the Written Law



348 X 558 cm

Sistine Chapel, The Vatican

The Temptation of Moses: Bearer of the Written Law

This image is part of the Old Testament stories shown on the south wall of the Sistine Chapel. This first of two paintings began Moses’ life. The title refers to the fact that Moses did not want to accept the call for leadership of the Israelites from God. The scenes portrayed are each examples of how Moses obeyed God and accepted God’s call. This leadership theme can be linked directly to the leadership that the pope claims for himself.

There are eight scenes in this image. The bottom right shows Moses, dressed in a golden robe, killing an Israelite slave. Then he runs away to the Midianites who live in the wilderness. There he meets the daughters of Jethro and helps care for their flock of sheep. From there, he climbs Mt. Sinai to meet God in the form of a burning bush. While on the mountain, God tells him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. The group of men, women, and children on the left are the Israelites leaving Israel.

The center scene of Moses watering the sheep by the well, at first glance, seems not to have very much to do with the overall picture. It does, however, have great significance. The interpretation can be seen as follows: Moses took direct instruction from God, both in the form of the burning bush and that he was given the Ten Commandments. Because he was given direct instruction from God, the Pope wanted to align himself with Moses and be seen as having that direct line to God. The oak tree symbolized the della Rovere pope as portrayed in the Rovere coat of arms. The source of water, the well, representing the law from God to Moses, is in the shade, or shelter of the oak tree representing the pope. Another interpretation of the well is that since the pope aligned himself with Moses and Moses is standing directly where the source, or well, is, the pope would have the same relationship with God that Moses did. Many of the images in the Sistine Chapel are shown to have these types of references to the supremacy of the pope.





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