Saturday, January 31, 2009

Baby in a Basket

Baby Moses
The earliest sources of pictorial information regarding clothing in Bible times comes from the ancient hieroglyphics found in the pyramids and tombs of Egypt. These pictures carved in stone not only provide us with detailed information on Egyptian clothing, they also record the clothing worn by other civilizations such as the Philistines.
Stone carvings found in the temple of Ramesses III for instance shows the armor worn by the Philistine captives. This gives us an indication of what the armor worn by Goliath may have looked like.

I've just finished the picture (above) depicting baby Moses being discovered in the bulrushes by Pharoah's daughter and her handmaidens. Because there is such an abundance of historical reference available for Egyptian clothing, Bible artists have no excuse for getting it wrong. There is one problem though. When producing pictures for children's Bibles we must choose modesty over accuracy! Egyptian handmaidens, (especially when working in water), wore little or no clothing, and much of the cloth used at this time, (due to the hot climate), was a very fine linen which was cool but see-through!
When Harold Copping illustrated the finding of Moses, he chose accuracy over modesty. His depiction of this scene must have caused many a raised eyebrow when it first appeared in the Copping Bible in 1910! It's possible that Copping was influenced by two well known paintings from that period, both with the same title 'The finding of Moses'. The first painted by Frederick Goodall in 1885, the second by Edwin Long in 1886. It would appear that nudity in Victorian paintings was legitimised when depicting either a biblical or historical subject. This fact possibly influenced the Bible artists of that period. It's true to say that Copping's picture would not find its way into a children's Bible today! Although the children's Bible that I have, which does contain this picture, was published as late as 1958.

I've mentioned in the past that there is sometimes the temptation to start illustrating a Bible story before reading it!
We think that we know a particular Bible story so well that there's no need to re-read it. The story of 'Moses in the basket' is one of those stories. When I was reading the story again, I noticed something that every artist who has illustrated it, (at least in all the children's Bibles that I own), has missed. Verse 6 of Exodus 2 clearly says "...the babe wept". In all the pictures that I've seen depicting this scene, Moses is shown to be lying quietly in the basket.

After doing some research I found that the brown torpedo-shaped pods that are often depicted amongst bulrushes by Bible artists are in fact Reedmace. True Egyptian Bulrushes are topped with green pom-pom type heads. (See picture above). This illustrates another point, that Bible artists are heavily influenced by the Bible art that has gone before.
The ark of bulrushes was a vessel made of woven papyrus stalks which was made watertight with a mixture of bitumen and mud, probably from the river Nile. (Mud from the Nile was also used to plaster buildings). I did illustrate this mud covering on the basket but it didn't look as nice as when you could see the basket weave, so I decided to leave it off. This might be the reason why other artists have chosen not to show a mud covered basket also!
Palm trees along the Nile are slightly different too. Rather than the branches forming a complete globe shape, the leaves grow upwards forming a half circle.

I hope this has been helpful. As always, I look forward to your comments.