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William de Brailes, The Israelites Worship the Golden Calf and Moses Breaks the Tablets (C. 1250, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore)
This manuscript illumination by medieval English scribe and artist de Brailes represented a horned Moses descending Sinai — with each of the Tablets broken in two at his feet — to encounter the 13 people worshipping a miniature Golden Calf, also standing on a column. The manuscript features an artistic convention that has happily disappeared, in which all of the members of a crowd are exactly the same height and have essentially the same facial features. But de Brailes’ illumination is timeless for a much more sophisticated move — the curled rocks that make up the mountain, as well as gold leaf humps in the background, all evoke tombstones. And tombstones were exactly what was in store for most of the Israelites (and everyone unfortunate enough to encounter them) during the rest of their journeys in the desert and ultimately the Holy Land.