Naples 1813 – Palazzolo di Castrocielo 1875
Moses abandoned by his mother
oil on canvas, 181×255 cm
The painting depicts the moment in the biblical Exodus when Moses’ mother sets him afloat on the Nile River to save him from the Pharaoh’s oppression (Exodus, 2: 1-3).
This theme was very popular at the time. In those years, exotic themes and historical settings enjoyed a growing interest – in 1818, the premiere of Gioacchino Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto (=Moses in Egypt) was held at the San Carlo Theater, in Naples. These subjects were thoroughly recreated, as can be seen in the present case: while the figures in the foreground, depicted with academic mastery, appear to be part of the local folklore, the temple and the obelisk seen in the distance, on top of a hill, are so startlingly realistic it makes us think that the artist was actually there, painting from life.
The artist behind this painting, Mosè abbandonato dalla madre, di colorito splendidissimo, who was honored by Capogrossi Guarna in the long obituary published after his death in 1875 (see Il Buonarroti, series 2, vol. 10, notebook 3, 16, pages 96-107, page 99), is Giuseppe Mancinelli, a student of Gaetano Angelini. Following the success of The Death of Archimedes, the artist was awarded a monetary prize by the Bourbons, in order to continue with his studies in Rome. In the Eternal City he studied with Vincenzo Camuccini and made several paintings welcomed with great favor by critics, such as the 1841 Tasso at Ferrara’s court (Capodimonte Museum, Naples).
In 1851 he became the drawing teacher of the Accademia delle Belle Arti of Naples, but the artist remained loyal to a classicism of purist nature and was eventually overshadowed by the realism of Domenico Morelli, who replaced him at the Accademia in 1860.
The painting is from the collection of Professor Fausto Nicolini (1879-1965), a leading scholar and historian from Naples, as can be seen by a card of the Royal Superintendence of Neapolitan Galleries, which specifies “artist” and “dimensions” of the work (“Deposito per la tutela dai rischi di guerra, 1940, XVIII”, number 031”).