The work of Giovanni Battista di Jacopo (1494 – 1540), known as Rosso Fiorentino–“the Red Florentine”–is irregular, with some pretty ho-hum stuff, and some that’s really wonderful. In the wonderful category is “Moses Defending the Daughters of Jethro.”
I love the animation of the thing, with Moses going at it in the foreground, and the swirling pink cloak of the ruffian behind; but then there are the coyly placid sheep in the middle, and the daughters, who, except for the blue-dressed gal in front, seem pretty calm. Notice the two faces just over her left shoulder–they seem only this moment to have noticed the action.
And the composition, with the body shapes getting more geometric and abstract as they are jammed together toward the bottom–as if everyone were falling down a well.
A teasing detail here is the dark blue wrap, the rhyme of the ruffian’s pink, that Moses wears about him. It provides a sharp, dark contrast to set off the generally light tones of the figures, and to give Moses’ face a contrasty background, but the primary function of such improbable, gravity-defying garments is usually to conceal the private parts. Here it pointedly does not.
Renaissance humor, perhaps? One of those sly artist’s jokes? Or maybe just catering to the market. Then, as now, the wishes of the grandee with the ducats got close attention.
This post is a reprise of April 14, 2012.