The Afterglow in Egypt

William Holman Hunt

c. 1854

Gallery 56, Pre Raphaelites

Related Objects in the Ashmolean

Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)

The Exposition of Moses

The subject of this painting illustrates the story of the baby Moses. According to the Book of Exodus, Pharaoh had ordered all new-born sons of the Hebrews to be killed. In order to protect Moses, his mother set him adrift on the Nile in a small wicker boat where he was rescued by Pharaohs daugher. His mother cannot bear to part company with her son but Moses sister points in the direction of the approaching princess in order to reassure her that he will be safe. Poussin had very little idea of Egypt when he painted this picture and based the buildings in the background and the surrounding landscape on his knowledge of ancient Rome and the countryside nearby. We know this must be Egypt, because Poussin has placed an Egyptian sphinx into his composition but there is little else which would indicate the setting. This lack of authenticity in painting Biblical pictures was common at the time. It was in order to correct the errors of artists like Poussin, that Hunt went to Egypt and Palestine in 1854 in search of greater accuracy in painting traditional Biblical subjects.