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The Adoration of the Golden Calf

Photo credit: The National Gallery, London

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In this scene from the Book of Exodus, a large gathering of Israelites worship a life-size statue of a golden calf, or what is actually a bull, which represents the Egyptian bull-god Apis. They have decided to worship a different, pagan god while their leader Moses has been away on Mount Sinai collecting the stone tablets on which God has written the Ten Commandments, his laws on how to live properly. Aaron, dressed in a white cloak, has melted down gold earrings to create the idol. In the top left corner, Moses returns with Joshua, and in his anger at seeing the calf smashes the tablets. The worshippers dance energetically and we follow their pointed hands across the canvas, which helps to tell the story. One group points towards the altar, leading our eye across the foreground to the dancers and Moses on the left.

The National Gallery, London



The Adoration of the Golden Calf




Oil on canvas


H 153.4 x W 211.8 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Bought with a contribution from The Art Fund, 1945.

Work type



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Normally on display at

The National Gallery, London

Trafalgar Square, London, Greater London WC2N 5DN England

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