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Moses and the Ark of the Covenant
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This image is available for download, without charge, under the Getty's Open Content Program.

Unknown
German, Regensburg, about 1400 - 1410
Tempera colors and silver paint on parchment
13 3/16 x 9 1/4 in.
MS. 33, FOL. 89V

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This miniature from Rudolf von Ems's popular compilation of world history depicts three events from Exodus. Denied his request to see God's face, Moses is permitted to see the back of God's head. On the left, he turns around to catch a glimpse of God's head, with long curly hair protruding from clouds. Moses' rare privilege demonstrated that he was one of God's favored ones.

Below on the right, following his descent from Mount Sinai to deliver the Law to the Israelites, Moses is depicted with horns, a tradition that grew from a misunderstanding of the biblical text that describes rays of light emanating from his head.

At the top of the miniature, the Ark of the Covenant containing the Tablets of the Law stands on the summit of Mount Sinai. For his representation of the ark, the artist drew upon biblical accounts describing its golden material, shape, and the cherubim affixed to the corners. Although the three scenes are not explicitly linked, the importance of the ark to the whole Moses story is made clear by its commanding position in the miniature.