The art of giving, receiving, gratitude

December 16, 2011|Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
  • "The Finding of Moses" was painted about 1565 by Italian artist Battista Zelotti (circa 1526 to 1578).
"The Finding of Moses" was painted about 1565 by Italian artist Battista Zelotti (circa 1526 to 1578).

Special to The Herald-Mail

On view in the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts' Schreiber Gallery is a painting by Italian painter, Battista Zelotti (circa 1526 to 1578) titled "The Finding of Moses" (circa 1565).

 The painting was given to the museum in 1960 by museum founder Anna Brugh Singer. The artist, Zelotti, trained with the great Venetian artist, Paolo Veronese (1528 to 1578) in the workshop of Antonio Badile (1518 to 1560) and assisted with numerous major artistic projects of Veronese.

The subject of the painting is the biblical story of the discovery of the infant Moses. When Pharoah ordered all male infants of the Israelites be killed, Moses' mother, Jochebed, was determined to save her newborn child from death.  

As told in the New International Version, in Exodus 2: 1-10, the mother hid the child for three months, then formed a waterproof basket, placed the child inside and set it near the Nile River. Moses' mother had her daughter, Moses' sister, Miriam, watch over the basket at the riverside. One day, Pharoah's daughter had gone to the river with her attendants to bathe, and they discovered the basket with the child inside. Although she recognized the child as a Hebrew infant, Pharoah's daughter had her servants care for him. Miriam, who had a place in Pharoah's domestic service, suggested to Pharoah's daughter that she seek a nurse for the babe, and Miriam arranged for the nurse to be Moses' mother.

In seeking to save the life of her babe, Jochebed also gave a gift to the world. Her child would become the brilliant and visionary leader, Moses, whose life story has been recounted in many popular artistic forms since the author of Exodus wrote the account. Moses' story has been retold in literature, works of art, music and film. The life story of Moses has also been regarded as a Hebrew Scriptural antecedent to the story of Jesus of Nazareth.  Italian renaissance artists would have been highly skilled in the creation of paintings that would employ these references.

Zelotti's painting of "The Finding of Moses" is composed of a gathering of women, Pharoah's daughter, prominently placed, standing and robed in red, with two attendants hovering over the child, in postures of adoration. The outdoor setting, with an arched bridge in the background, and classically posed figures add harmony to the painting, and the lines of the arrangement all point to the infant Moses in his basket, set at the bottom and right side of the composition.

Anna Brugh Singer gave the painting to the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in 1960, two years before her death. She had already given all of the funds to build the initial 1930 building, and the subsequent 1949 wings, and more than 100 works of art to establish the museum's collection.  In gratitude for this gift, the mayor and council of Hagerstown, the Washington County Commissioners and museum's Board of Trustees agreed to sustain the museum's operations in perpetuity.

The museum has cared for this beautiful and educational painting, and many other works of art in its 80-year history. The visionary gifts of trustees, city and county officials, art collectors and citizens of the region have taken the museum from its founding through a formative period of robust collecting, into maturity, when national accreditation recognized the museum's artistic excellence.

The treasured art collections of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts are held in trust for the benefit of the citizens of the region and visitors from afar. Many of the museum's collections were given by collectors for the benefit of the public. Now the collection has reached 7,000 works of art.

Recently, the museum applied for and received funding to undertake the Collections-Museum Assessment Program (C-MAP), the museum staff completed a comprehensive, written collections management policy, which was reviewed by the Collections and Exhibitions Committee and approved by the trustees.

Subsequently, the museum received funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to undertake a complete collections inventory including photographic documentation, condition reporting and website access. The museum curatorial staff will continue developing curatorial and artistic content for the museum's long-term and changing exhibitions, planning, designing and executing gallery reconstruction and exhibition design to enhance the public's experience and opportunity to learn; and to better develop the educational interpretative content and media.

Since its founding, admission to the museum has been free. The public is invited to visit, see the collections and exhibitions, including the beautiful painting of "The Finding of Moses," and enjoy and appreciate the abundant gift that is the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

Take advantage of this exceptional community resource this holiday season. I invite you to visit.

Rebecca Massie Lane is director of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

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