Domenico Giacomo di Pace (called Beccafumi) (1486 – May 18, 1551)
Moses and the Golden Calf
Oil on wood
197 x 139 cm
The Duomo, Pisa
With Baldassare Perruzzi, Domenico Beccafumi was one of the greatest painters of the Sienese High Renaissance
He is mystical rather than naturalistic
Mannerist but in the tradition of Michelangelo and Raphael
As well as paintings and drawings, he is also renowned for the work he did for the decorative pavement at the Duomo di Siena from 1517 – 1544. His white marble engravings depict stories from the bible, including Ahab, Elijah, Melchisedec, Abraham, and Moses
The above work again of Moses was one of six paintings commissioned for the Duomo in Pisa by the then administrator for OPA, Antonio Urbani
The theme of the work is well known. It is narrated in Exodus 32
While on the Mountain, the Israelites began to regress. They fashioned a golden calf which they worshipped.
Moses destroyed the calf.
Punishment was meted out to the disobedient and ungrateful people
"26 Moses stood at the gate of the camp and shouted, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me!” All the Levites then rallied to him,27 and he told them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Each of you put your sword on your hip! Go back and forth through the camp, from gate to gate, and kill your brothers, your friends, your neighbours!”28 The Levites did as Moses had commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people fell."
In this work Moses is seen venting his anger on Korah, Dathan and Abiron, later to be three of the conspirators against Moses and Aaron who with their families were later swallowed up in the ground (Numbers 16:1-40; 26:9-11) for their crimes
Needless to say there are many similarities between this series on the life of Moses in the cathedral in Pisa and the pavement engravings in Siena
The Golden Calf is a lesson which at this time the authorities both Church and State wished to drive home.
At this time outbreaks of bubonic plagues affected much of Italy on a frequent basis.
It was also the time of The Italian Wars when Italy was little more than a gigantic battleground for the armies of the Holy Roman Empire, France and the various republics and duchies which made up the peninsula
Often there were changes in leadership in the various principalities as well as power vacuums
But it was also the time when reformation and catholic reformation was much talked about and desired
Surely a return to paganism was out of the question ?
In his book The golden days of the renaissance in Rome, from the pontificate of Julius II to that of Paul III (1906), Rodolfo Amedeo Lanciani (1845 – 1929) described a very serious incident in Rome which occurred in April 1522:
"In April, 1522, while the pestilence was at its height, [Pope] Adrian VI sent word from Spain that a new tax of five giulii per house should be imposed on the city, to start a crusade against the Turks !
And as the cardinals were leaving one by one, by land or by sea, under plea of joining the Pope, the Town Council [of Rome] in the meeting of June 4, voted an address to the Sacred College, asking them not to desert their place of duty.
In the mean time the citizens, trying to escape in the direction of the Sabine and Simbruine hills, were met by Tiburtinians at the outskirts of their territory and chased back with spikes and cudgels, amidst yells of " Death to the Romans !"
No wonder that, forsaken by their leaders and driven to desperation, the Romans should have lent a willing ear to the suggestions of an impostor, a Greek from Sparta named Demetrios, a master of the black art and a necromancer by profession.
Demetrios told them that, as the ordeal they were going through was the work of the devil, to him they were bound to appeal in their distress.
Accordingly he was permitted to lead through the streets, by a silken string, a bull whose fierceness he had tamed by magic power. The bull was led into the arena of the Coliseum and sacrificed to the evil one, according to the ritual of classic times.
We can hardly believe that such a sacrilege could have been committed in Rome in the year of our Lord fifteen hundred and twenty-two, and under the rule of the austere Adrian VI ; yet the event is duly chronicled by Bizarus, Rinaldi, and other historians of that period.
As soon as the clergy and the people realized the enormity of the sacrilege of which they had been willing witnesses, an expiatory procession was ordered, in which men and boys marched scourging themselves to bleeding, while women barefooted and in sackcloth cried "Misericordia, Misericordia"
The beautiful Oratorio del Crocifisso, by the church of San Marcello, must also be considered as an expiatory monument of the same event"