The Biblical miracle of the burning bush that was not consumed (Exodus III) was one of the three that God showed Moses to confirm his mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. A pupil of Carracci, Domenichino was a key figure in the creation of an idealizing, classical style of painting in Europe. His landscapes transpose observation of nature to a timeless, idyllic realm.
The subject of this picture is one of three miracles—the burning bush, the serpent rod, and the leprous hand—that God showed Moses to confirm his divine mission to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. As Moses was tending the sheep of his father-in-law, Jethro, "the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed." Moses stared at the bush, and God called out to him, "Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." Then, "Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God" (Exodus 3:2–6).
When the picture was first recorded (Colonna 1714), it was the pendant to another landscape by Domenichino, Tobias Laying Hold of the Fish, now in the National Gallery, London. They are related to each other in having been painted on sheets of copper of the same size, in the uniform scale of the figures in relation to the backgrounds, and in the almost identical handling of paint. Furthermore, Tobias's red tunic is the very shade as Moses' cape. There does not, however, appear to be an obvious iconographic link between the two pictures, aside from the general one of miraculous themes. Nevertheless, they seem to have been conceived as a pair. Perhaps their subjects appealed to the artist because they afforded the opportunity to paint sweeping landscapes.
None of Domenichino's small landscapes can be dated with certainty, but Landscape with Moses and the Burning Bush and Tobias Laying Hold of the Fish would appear to be from the artist's early maturity. The closest analogy in his documented work to the composition of The Met's painting can be seen in the artist's drawing for one of the frescoes at the Villa Aldobrandini, Frascati, showing Apollo pursuing Daphne (Royal Library, Windsor). The Frascati frescoes were designed in 1616, and the New York and London landscapes probably date from about the same time.
Both pictures are prime examples of Domenichino's contribution to the development of landscape painting. Although relatively small, they convey a sense of vast spaciousness. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Domenichino's master Annibale Carracci (1560–1609) had invented a new type of painting, the so-called heroic landscape, which consisted of carefully constructed panoramas dominated by relatively large figures. In Domenichino's work, the figures are smaller in scale, and nature becomes the dominant subject of the picture: they are the direct antecedents of the celebrated landscapes of Claude Lorrain (1600–1682).
[2011; adapted from Fahy 2005]
?Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna, Palazzo Colonna, Rome (until d. 1689); Colonna family, Palazzo Colonna, Rome (by 1693–at least 1798; inv., 1714, no. 910; cat., 1783, no. 558); Arthur Harrington Champernowne (until d. 1819; his estate sale, Christie's, London, June 30, 1820, no. 84, to Emerson); Hon. Sir William Waldegrave, 1st Baron Radstock, London (until d. 1825; his estate sale, Christie's, London, May 12–13, 1826, no. 59, to Baring); Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton, London (1826–d. 1848); the Barons Ashburton (1848–1938); Alexander Francis St. Vincent Baring, 6th Baron Ashburton (1938–70; sale, Christie's, London, June 26, 1970, no. 73, to Agnew for Wrightsman); Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York (1970–76; cat., 1973, no. 9)
London. British Institution. 1828, no. 23 (lent by Alexander Baring).
Inventario di tutti l'Effetti tanto in Roma Stato Ecclesiastico, e Regno trovati in Essere doppo la Morte della Ch: me: dell'Ecc. Sig.re D. Filippo Colonna defonto li 6 Nov.re 1714. December 15, 1714–February 26, 1716, f. 262, no.  [Archivio Colonna, Subiaco; III Q B 29; published in Safarik 1996; Getty no. I-77], as "Due quadri in rame dj misura dj mezza testa per alto rapp.ti due paesi in uno vi è l'Angelo, e Tobia, e l'altro con Giacobbe [sic] a Roveto originali del Domenichino con sue cornici simili alle sud.e spett.j come sopra" [with "Landscape with Tobias Laying Hold of the Fish"; National Gallery, London].
Pietro Rossini. Il mercurio errante delle grandezze di Roma, tanto antiche, che moderne. 2nd ed. Rome, 1750, vol. 1, p. 70 [first ed., 1693, p. 48], mentions two landscapes by Domenichino in the Palazzo Colonna which must be the MMA and London paintings.
Catalogo dei quadri, e pitture esistenti nel Palazzo dell'eccellentissima Casa Colonna in Roma. Rome, 1783, p. 69, no. 558, with the London painting, as "Due Quadri in Rame di palmi 2 per alto rappresentanti, uno l'Angelo con Tobia, l'altro Mosè col Roveto=Domenico Zampieri detto il Dominichino".
Friedrich Wilhelm Basilius von Ramdohr. Ueber Mahlerei und Bildhauerarbeit in Rom fuer Liebhaber des Schoenen in der Kunst. Leipzig, 1787, vol. 2, p. 109 [repr. 1971], lists two small landscapes by Domenichino in the ninth room of the Palazzo Colonna.
[Gustav Friedrich] Waagen. Treasures of Art in Great Britain. London, 1854, vol. 2, p. 101, lists it in the collection of Lord Ashburton, London.
Gian Carlo Cavalli inL'ideale classico del seicento in Italia e la pittura di paesaggio. Exh. cat., Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio. Bologna, 1962, pp. 105–6, confuses this picture with the version in Rotterdam, proposing a date for it between 1612 and 1615.
Evelina Borea. Domenichino. Milan, 1965, p. 173, notes that either the picture seen by Waagen in the Ashburton collection or the Rotterdam version could be work recorded in the Colonna collection.
Denis Mahon. Letter to Everett Fahy. September 21, 1970, identifies it as unquestionably the pendant in the Colonna collection to the "Landscape with Tobias" (now National Gallery, London), and calls the Rotterdam version a copy.
Michael Levey. The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Italian Schools. London, 1971, pp. 92–93 nn. 6–8, observes that this picture was paired with the Tobias in the Colonna collection, and that the two paintings share a date of origin, about 1617–18, but need not necessarily have been painted as pendants.
Richard E. Spear. Letter to Everett Fahy. March 10, 1972, favors a date of about 1610–12 for this picture and the one in London.
Everett Fahy inThe Wrightsman Collection. Vol. 5, Paintings, Drawings. [New York], 1973, pp. 73–81, no. 9, ill. p. 75 (color), figs. 1–3 (details), concludes that this picture and the Tobias were conceived as a pair, though there is no obvious iconographic link; dates them about 1616, and describes other versions and copies.
A. Pigler. Barockthemen: Eine Auswahl von Verzeichnissen zur Ikonographie des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts. 2nd ed. [first ed. 1956]. Budapest, 1974, vol. 1, p. 98.
R. A. Cecil. "The Wrightsman Collection." Burlington Magazine 118 (July 1976), p. 518.
Dean Walker inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1975–1979. New York, 1979, pp. 49–50, ill.
Le Choix d'un amateur éclairé. Exh. cat., Institut Néerlandais. Paris, 1979, p. 98.
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 294, 296, fig. 533 (color).
Richard E. Spear. "A forgotten landscape painter: Giovanni Battista Viola." Burlington Magazine 122 (May 1980), p. 305.
A Dealer's Record: Agnew's, 1967–81. London, 1981, ill. p. 40.
Richard E. Spear. Domenichino. New Haven, 1982, vol. 1, pp. 172–74, no. 39; vol. 2, pl. 138.
Clovis Whitfield. "Les Paysages du Dominiquin et de Viola." Monuments et mémoires 69 (1988), p. 98, fig. 32, agrees with Spear (1972) that the MMA and London pictures probably date to about 1610–12.
Richard E. Spear. "Domenichino Addenda." Burlington Magazine 131 (January 1989), p. 15, nos. 38–39, observes that a 1714 inventory of the Colonna collection provides the earliest identification of the MMA and London pictures by their subjects; calls the two paintings pendants
Richard E. Spear inDomenichino, 1581–1641. Exh. cat., Palazzo Venezia, Rome. Milan, 1996, p. 408, under no. 19, suggests a thematic link between the two pendants: the virginity of Tobias's wife, Sarah, and the burning bush that is not consumed both prefigure the virgin birth of Christ.
Eduard A. Safarik. Collezione dei dipinti Colonna: inventari 1611–1795. Munich, 1996, p. 628, notes that one example of this catalogue has handwritten annotations indicating the most important works that left the collection beginning in 1798, including this one.
Willemien de Bruin inItalian Paintings from the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries in Dutch Public Collections. Ed. Bernard Aikema et al. Florence, 1997, p. 64.
Everett Fahy inThe Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, pp. 38–42, no. 10, ill. (color).
Keith Christiansen. "Going for Baroque: Bringing 17th-Century Masters to the Met." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 62 (Winter 2005), p. 14, fig. 9 (color).
Keith Christiansen inPhilippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977–2008. New York, 2009, p. 37.
Patrizia Cavazzini inNature et idéal: le paysage à Rome, 1600–1650. Exh. cat., Grand Palais, Galeries nationales. Paris, 2011, p. 48, states that this work provided the compositional prototype for Claude Lorrain's "Discovery of Moses" (Prado, Madrid) of 1639–40.
Stéphane Loire inNature et idéal: le paysage à Rome, 1600–1650. Exh. cat., Grand Palais, Galeries nationales. Paris, 2011, p. 126, under no. 19.
Everett Fahy (2005) lists six copies after this work:
Earl of Waldegrave, London (sale, Prestage's, London, November 16–19, 1763, no. 21). Oil on canvas, 48.3 x 38.1 cm.
sale, Christie's, London, April 16, 1970, no. 60.
Prince of Leuchtenberg, Munich (in 1845); Felix Ziethen (sale, Hugo Helbing, Munich, September 22, 1934, no. 98). Oil on canvas, 65 x 79 cm.
Cardinal Jules Mazarin, Paris (d. 1661). Oil on canvas.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (no. 1189). Oil on canvas, 43.5 x 34.5 cm. A later copy.
Earl of Lichfield, Shugborough Hall, Staffordshire. Oil on canvas, 47.6 x 35.5 cm.
Artist: Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri) (Italian, Bologna 1581–1641 Naples)Date: 1612–14Medium: Charcoal highlighted with white chalk on fourteen sheets of blue laid paper, two of the sheets cut from elsewhere on the original cartoon and reset at the left and right margins to make up the ovalAccession: 1998.211On view in:Not on view
Artist: Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri) (Italian, Bologna 1581–1641 Naples)Date: 1620–30Medium: Black chalk, highlighted with white chalk, on blue-gray paper partly faded light brownAccession: 1994.183On view in:Not on view