Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh: An Allegory of the Dinteville Family

Master of the Dinteville Allegory (Netherlandish or French, active mid-16th century)

Oil on wood
69 1/2 x 75 7/8 in. (176.5 x 192.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Wentworth Fund, 1950
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    In this large, allegorical family portrait, the Dinteville brothers act out a scene from Exodus 7:9. Pleading with Pharaoh to free the Israelites, Aaron (François II de Dinteville) transforms his rod into a serpent, proving that God is with him. Jean de Dinteville is depicted as Moses, while Gaucher and Guillaume stand behind them. The brothers were important members of the court of Francis I, who is represented as Pharaoh. Painted during a critical moment in their relationship with the French king, this extraordinary portrait hung in the family château of Polisy with an even more exceptional depiction of Jean de Dinteville: Holbein’s Ambassadors (National Gallery, London).

  • Catalogue Entry


  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Dated and inscribed: (on hem of Moses' garment) ·IEHAN Sr DE·POLISY· / ·EN·AGE 33· / ·BAILLY·DE·TROYES / [EN?] ·1537·; (on hem of Gaucher's robe) 1537 / GAVCHER·Sr·DE·VANLAY· / EN AGE / 28; (on hem of Guillaume's robe) GVILLAVME· / DE SCHESNET / DE·DINTEVILLE·CHEV . . . / ·DESCVL IE·DE·MO [last letter cut by panel edge] / EN / AGE 32; (on Aaron's miter) CREDIDIT. / ABRAM·DNO. / ETREPVTATV. / EST·ILLI·AD.IVS / TITIAM· (And [Abraham] believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness [Genesis 15:6].); (on border of Aaron's gown) EN / 8; (upper left, on entablature) VIRTVTI FORTVNA COMES· (Fortune, the companion of merit [motto of the Dinteville family]); (lower left, falsely, on base of pharaoh's throne) IOANNES·HOLBEIN·1537

  • Provenance

    Dinteville family, Polisy, the château of Jean de Dinteville (1537–1653; inv., 1589); François de Cazillac, marquis de Cessac [descendant of Claude de Dinteville, niece of Jean de Dinteville], Paris (from 1653; inv., 1653); probably Marie-Renée le Genevois, granddaughter and heiress of François de Cazillac; her heir, Chrestien II de Lamoignon; his wife, Marie-Louise Gon de Bergonne (in 1728; inv., 1728); Chrétien-Guillaume de Lamoignon, son of Chrestien II de Lamoignon (from 1759; inv., 1759); his son, Chrétien François II de Lamoignon, marquis de Basville (until 1787 [as executor of estate of Nicolas Beaujon included the present work and Holbein's "Ambassadors" in Beaujon's sale]; sale, estate of Nicolas Beaujon, Hôtel d'Évreux, Rémy and Julliot fils, Paris, April 25–May 4, 1787, no. 16, as "La Cour de François II [sic] . . . ," by Holbein, sold with no. 15 bis, Holbein's "Ambassadors," to Lebrun); [Le Brun, Paris, 1787–91; sale, Paris, April 11, 1791, no. 44, as "La Cour de François II [sic] . . . ," by Holbein, for Fr 40 to Pois]; ?comte de Cerny, château de Lisy, near Anisy-le-Château, Aisne, France; sale, Boucly/Masson (comm. pris.) and Delaroche/Destouches (experts), Paris, December 3, 1810, no. 35; sale, Le Chevalier/Elie, Paris, October 28, 1811, no. 80, for Fr 2200; probably Capt. Stair Hathorn Stewart, Glasserton, Withorn, Scotland (until d. 1865); his grandson, Stair Hathorn Johnston Stewart, Glasserton (until d. 1905); his half-brother, Admiral Robert Hathorn Johnston Stewart, Glasserton (by 1910–d. 1940; sale, Christie's, London, February 26, 1910, no. 106, as "Property of a Gentleman, said to represent King Henry VIII, as Pharaoh . . . ," to Dale, bought in; Stewart's estate, 1940–48; sale Christie's, London, July 23, 1948, no. 58, with "one [figure] said to represent Henry VIII, as Pharaoh . . . ," to Sabin); [Frank T. Sabin, London, 1948–50; sold to MMA]

  • Exhibition History

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art Treasures of the Metropolitan," November 7, 1952–September 7, 1953, no. 106.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 22, 1998–February 21, 1999, no. 43.

  • References

    Charles Blanc. Le trésor de la curiosité. 2, Paris, 1858, p. 129, records the contents of the 1791 Lebrun sale, including this picture.

    Mary F. S. Hervey. "Notes on Various Works of Art: 'A Forgotten French Painter: Félix Chrétien'." Burlington Magazine 19 (1911), p. 164, supports Konody's finding [Ref. 1911].

    Mary F. S. Hervey and Robert Martin-Holland. "A Forgotten French Painter: Félix Chrétien." Burlington Magazine 19 (April 1911), pp. 48–55, ill., attribute the painting to Félix Chrétien, a chorister at Auxerre who was taken under the protection of François II de Dinteville, Bishop of Auxerre, and eventually became his secretary; also ascribe to Chrétien a triptych of "The Life of Saint Eugenia" in the Church of Varzy, Nièvre, and a "Stoning of Saint Stephen" in the Cathedral at Auxerre; identify four standing figures in the right foreground as the Dinteville brothers, observing that Pharaoh "can only be intended to personify Francis I," although the features show little resemblance to his usual portraits; suggest that the second head from the left is the artist's self-portrait; discuss the significance of the allegory, relating it to a conflict between factions in the French court and threats to the position of François de Dinteville as bishop.

    P. G. Konody. "Letters to the Editors: 'A Forgotten French Painter: Félix Chrétien'." Burlington Magazine 19 (1911), p. 106, identifies this painting as the work sold as the companion to Holbein's "Ambassadors" (now National Gallery, London) in the 1787 Beaujon sale.

    M. H. Bernath in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. 6, Leipzig, 1912, p. 532, mentions our painting under the name of Félix Chrétien, drawing on the 1911 article of Hervey and Martin-Holland.

    Art Treasures of the Metropolitan: A Selection from the European and Asiatic Collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1952, p. 227, no. 106, colorpl. 106.

    Anthony Blunt. Art and Architecture in France, 1500 to 1700. Baltimore, 1953, pp. 68, 83 n. 85, pl. 46B, calls it by far the most striking work attributed to Chrétien and observes that the composition, which is German rather than Italian in type, must have been directly influenced by Holbein's "Ambassadors"; states that our picture was conceived as a pendant to the latter work; notes that the features of Pharaoh show little resemblance to those of Francis I and that the King would hardly have been flattered by a portrait of himself in this guise.

    "The Dintevilles before the Dauphin Henri (circa 1543) in 'The Judgement of Solomon'." Connoisseur 133 (May 1954), p. 193, ascribe to Félix Chrétien a "Judgment of Solomon" on the London art market.

    Charles Sterling. "XV–XVIII Centuries." The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of French Paintings. 1, Cambridge, Mass., 1955, pp. 44–47, ill., ascribes the painting to Chrétien, observing that "its elaborate Roman and semi-oriental costumes and its heavy throne with inlaid decoration, testifies to the archaeological pedantry of the humanistic circle around Lambert Lombard"; sees the influence of Holbein in the portrait heads, and notes that the crowding of the figures against the frame suggests that the panel may have been cut down.

    Michael Levey. National Gallery Catalogues: The German School. London, 1959, pp. 48, 52–53 n. 2, mentioned as by Félix Chrétien in relation to Holbein's "Ambassadors".

    Jacques Thuillier. "Études sur le cercle des Dinteville: L'énigme de Félix Chrestien." Art de France 1 (1961), pp. 57–75, ill., questions the attribution to Chrétien and notes that Hervey and Martin-Holland's identification of him as a painter is based solely on the Abbé Lebeuf's observation (see "Mémoires concernant l'histoire . . . d'Auxerre, 1743, vol. 1, p. 598) that the two paintings in Varzy and Auxerre "passent pour être de la façon de Félix Chrétien, chanoine . . ."; observes that the style of our painting suggests an artist trained in the Netherlands or Germany, and ascribes the Varzy triptych to the same hand, noting that it bears an illegible inscription in Dutch; associates with the MMA and Varzy pictures a painting representing wine barrels being lowered into a cellar, which bears the arms of François I de Dinteville and the date 1537 (Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt), and an altarpiece of the Nativity in the château de Commarin, Côte-d'Or; attributes the "Stoning of Saint Stephen" at Auxerre to one of the many French artists active in the provinces making stained glass windows; comments inexplicably that contrary to usual depictions of Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh, Pharaoh is not represented here, possibly to avoid identification of a Dinteville enemy.

    Albert Châtelet and Jacques Thuillier. French Painting from Fouquet to Poussin. [Geneva], 1963, pp. 112–15, comment on its affinities with the Roman school, particularly Giulio Romano, and with Northern art.

    John Pope-Hennessy. The Portrait in the Renaissance. Princeton, 1966, pp. 250–51, 324 n. 54, pl. 275, calls the attribution to Félix Chrétien "conjectural," observes that the artist was probably a Fleming, and notes that the features of Pharaoh "have more than a chance resemblance to Francis I"; comments that "the painting is by no means a great work of art, but its space structure depends from the [Holbein's] 'Ambassadors,' and its politico-religious symbolism offers an indication of the lines on which the 'Ambassadors' should be interpreted".

    Anthony Blunt. Art and Architecture in France, 1500 to 1700. 2nd ed. [1st ed. 1953]. Baltimore, 1970, pp. 63–64, 255 n. 65, pl. 46B, ascribes it to an unknown artist, observing that "It has now been shown . . . that Chrétien was not a painter at all but the secretary to the bishop . . . "; suggests that this painting is by an artist trained in Holland, since many of the heads recall the style of Jan van Scorel, and agrees with Thuillier's attribution of the Varzy triptych, but not the "Stoning of Saint Stephen," to the same hand.

    Michel Laclotte. "Nouvelles présentations, Musée du Louvre: Nouvelles salles au Département des peintures." Revue du Louvre et des musées de France 22, no. 1 (1972), p. 62, illustrates a portrait of a man in antique costume recently acquired by the Louvre which he finds close to the portraits in our painting and the triptych at Varzy; ascribes all three works to "Pseudo Félix Chrétien".

    J. Bruyn. Letter to John Walsh. February 14, 1973, ascribes this picture and the triptych at Varzy to the same hand, noting that he found on the Varzy triptych two coats of arms, one of the guild of Saint Luke and the other of the city of Haarlem; believes that the painter came from Haarlem and that he was a direct pupil of Holbein.

    Brigitte Walbe. "Studien zur Entwicklung des allegorischen Porträts in Frankreich von seinen Anfängen bis zur Regierunszeit König Heinrichs II." PhD diss., Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt, 1974, pp. 100–102, 215 nn. 325–27, p. 216 nn. 328–32, discusses it as probably by a Dutch artist, the same master that painted the "Triptych of Saint Eugénie" at Varzy.

    Katharine Baetjer. "Pleasures and Problems of Early French Painting." Apollo 106 (November 1977), pp. 347–48, ill.

    J. Bruyn. "Over de betekenis van het werk van Jan van Scorel omstreeks 1530 voor oudereen jongere tijdgenoten, IV. De Pseudo-Félix Chrétien: een Haarlemse schilder (Bartholomeus Pons?) bij de bischop van Auxerre." Oud-Holland 98, no. 2 (1984), pp. 98–110, pls. 4–5 (overall and detail), suggests that the painter of our picture and the Varzy triptych may have been Bartholmeus Pons, a Haarlem painter who visited Rome and departed again before June 22, 1518, when a letter of indulgence was addressed to him care of a master at "Tornis" (possibly Tournus in Burgundy); ascribes to the artist's workshop the "Stoning of Saint Stephen" at Auxerre and the 1537 panel at Frankfurt; notes that the artist seems to be aware of "Raphael's work in its classical phase of about 1515–16 and to have been influenced mainly by the style of the cartoons for the Sistine tapestries".

    R. H. Johnston Stewart. Letter to Mary Sprinson de Jesús. September 13, 1984, provides information about the provenance; notes that this painting was listed in the catalogue of pictures at Glasserton (now lost) as "possibly by Holbein".

    Olivier Bonfait. Revue de l'art no. 73 (1986), p. 36, ill., discusses the provenance of this picture and Holbein's "Ambassadors" and notes that when they belonged to the Lamoignon family they were always hung in the same room and appear to have been pendants.

    Marguerite Guillaume et al. La peinture en Bourgogne au XVIe siècle. Exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. [Dijon], 1990, pp. 108, 117–18, ascribe the triptych of Saint Eugénie to a Netherlandish painter active in Burgundy, the same artist who produced our Allegory, and ascribe the "Stoning of Saint Stephen" to another artist, perhaps French, active in Burgundy.

    Jacques Thuillier in Trésors cachés des églises de la Nièvre. Exh. cat.Nevers, France, 1990, pp. 100, 102–3.

    Friedrich Polleross. "Between Typology and Psychology: The Role of the Identification Portrait in Updating Old Testament Representations." Artibus et Historiae no. 24 (1991), pp. 85, 87.

    Susan Foister et al. Making & Meaning: Holbein's Ambassadors. Exh. cat., National Gallery. London, 1997, pp. 23–25, 28–29, 87, 101 nn. 15–19, ill., notes that although this picture was painted four years after Holbein's "Ambassadors," "it would seem possible that it was designed to match the earlier picture in some way"; observes that in the 1589 inventory of the château de Polisy our picture is described as hanging over a fireplace in rooms described as new, while the "Ambassadors" was displayed in the old part of the château; suggests, nevertheless, that the pictures originally "hung closer to each other, in the same or adjacent rooms, and that their similar size was dictated by the ambient architecture of the building before the enlargements".

    Mary Sprinson de Jesús in From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. 144–45, 198–201, 398, no. 43, ill. (overall in color and detail), dubs the artist "Master of the Dinteville Allegory"; notes that E. A. R. Brown believes the panel was painted in 1538, in spite of the appearance of the date 1537 throughout the composition, and that she sees the inscription "EN / 8" on Aaron's cape as a cryptic record of the paintings actual date of creation.

    Elizabeth A. R. Brown. "The Dinteville Family and the Allegory of Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh." Metropolitan Museum Journal 34 (1999), pp. 73–100, ill., discusses the painting and the the Dinteville family in depth, in particular their political circumstances during the 1530s and 1540s; suggests the inscription "EN 8" on Aaron's robe may indicate that the picture was actually painted in 1538, the year of the brothers' greatest disgrace, rather than in 1537 (as inscribed on Gaucher's robe), a year in which the family's reputation was unblemished; reproduces a portrait drawing of Pierre de Mareuil, to whom the see of Auxerre was transferred when François II de Dinteville was exiled in Italy, and suggests that the head of Pharaoh may be a composite representation of the brother's chief adversaries during these years, Francis I and Pierre de Mareuil; believes the picture was commissioned by François II, perhaps while he was in exile.

    Nicole Dacos. "Cartons et dessins raphaélesques à Bruxelles: L'action de Rome aux Pays-Bas." Fiamminghi a Roma: atti del convegno internazionale Bruxelles 24–25 febbraio 1995. Rome, [1999], p. 11, fig. 16 (color), states that the mastery of perspective and a certain competence in the handling of anatomy are due, not to a trip to Rome, but to the artist's knowledge of Raphael's cartoons in Brussels, from which he borrowed liberally; asserts that Pharaoh and the figures standing behind him in our picture derive from The Blinding of Elymas, while the man who closes the composition, his hand in his cloak, is taken from Saint Paul in Athens [both cartoons are in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London]; sees other influences here from the school of Brussels, in the clever arrangement of figures around the protagonists, and the astonishingly smooth modeling of drapery reminiscent of Jan van Scorel; notes that the handling of light and shadow betray a knowledge of Holbein's Ambassadors (National Gallery, London).

    Ian Wardropper. "The Flowering of the French Renaissance." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 62 (Summer 2004), pp. 22–23, ill. (color), notes that the painting reveals the period penchant for identification with Old Testament or classical figures.

    Annick Addé-Lebreton. "A propos de la famille de Dinteville." Bulletin de la Société des Fouilles Archéologiques et des Monuments Historiques de l'Yonne no. 22 (2005), p. 18, ill. p. 19, notes that the same faces can be recognized in the triptych of the Legend of Saint Eugénie, Varzy.

    Bodo Brinkmann. "'Quelque chose d'un peu sauvage': Ein ungewöhnliches Interieur für den Bruder eines Holbein-Kunden." Hans Holbein und der Wandel in der Kunst des frühen 16. Jahrhunderts. Turnhout, Belgium, 2005, pp. 255–56, fig. 4, attributes the "Cellar Scene" in the Städel Museum, Frankfurt, to the Master of the Dinteville Allegory.

    Pierre Rosenberg. Only in America: One Hundred Paintings in American Museums Unmatched in European Collections. Milan, 2006, pp. 62–63, 234, ill. (color).

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History