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Work Moses Saved from the Waters

Department of Decorative Arts: 17th century

Moses Saved from the Waters

© 1995 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

Decorative Arts
17th century

Ribou Marie-Hélène de

In 1627, painter Simon Vouet was recalled from Italy by Louis XIII. The king immediately commissioned him to produce models for an Old Testament tapestry comprising eight panels. The tapestry of Moses Saved from the Waters was part of a series intended to decorate the Palais du Louvre, woven in the Louvre workshops. It is one of the finest examples of the revival that Vouet brought to the art of tapestry, both as regards the composition of the central scene and the way the border is executed.

A tapestry designed like a window

Five young women discover the baby Moses in a basket on the water. Pharaoh's daughter is richly dressed in a robe with a gold ground and a full blue cloak. She is making a gesture of surprise at seeing the child, who is concealed by two of her attendants. Behind this group, we see columns and ruins, which close off the landscape to the right. On the left, however, the Nile is flowing and we are given a view into the distance through the trees lining the two banks. The border forms an architectural frame decorated with moldings. With its effects of light and shade, it suggests a window opening onto the scene in front of us.

The First Painter to the king submits models for the tapestry

Simon Vouet spent several years in Rome studying classical art, as well as the great Renaissance and early seventeenth-century painters. In 1627, Louis XIII recalled him to Paris in order to give him several commissions. During the sixteenth century, Raphael's cartoons for the Acts of the Apostles tapestry had brought about a real revival of tapestry production in Brussels. Encouraged by this example, Louis XIII asked his First Painter to produce some tapestry models of his own. The choice of theme centered on the Old Testament, and eight models were chosen to make up the hanging. We do not know whether the series executed in the Louvre workshops for Louis XIII originally included more than two sections, but when the general inventory for the Royal Furniture Repository was drawn up between 1663 and 1673, only the two sections that have come down to us were listed: the second, the Daughter of Jephthah, is kept in the Mobilier National collection.

A model adapted to the techniques of tapestry

Vouet was perfectly able to work within the limitations imposed by tapestrymaking. The landscape occupies a large part of the central scene, which was traditional in the art of tapestry. Meanwhile, the trees and the column create vanishing lines that open up the space. The idealized features and rounded shapes of the five young girls add to the gentleness of the group, whereas the stances of the figures and the movement of the drapery imbue the scene with a quiet animation. The border is worked in monochrome, as in a bas-relief. Putti are combined with the classical-style foliage, arabesques, and medallions, and all are depicted in a range of light, luminous shades. The artist did not hesitate to allow the figures in the frame itself to extend beyond the border, thus reinforcing the link with the central scene.


Thuillier Jacques, Vouet, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1991, pp. 504-507.

Un temps d'exubérance. Les arts décoratifs sous Louis XIII et Anne d'Autriche, Paris, Galerie nationale du Grand Palais, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2002, n 89, pp. 158-159.

Technical description

  • Louvre workshop

    Moses Saved from the Waters

    C. 1630

    Mark of Raphaël de la Planche

  • Tapestry, wool and silk

    H. 4.95 m; W. 5.88 m

  • Former Crown collection; assigned from the Mobilier National, 1906 , 1906

    Third Tapestry from the Old Testament / woven for Louis XIII for the Palais du Louvre

    OA 6086

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Room 519

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Additional information about the work

From a tapestry comprising two panels commissioned by Louis XIII; with the arms of France and Navarre and the monogram and emblem of Louis XIII (an L and a club)