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Capital letter L. Exodus 14:16

CAT 35 Capital letter L.  Exodus 14.16. Taferelen. BA 50.jpg

CAT 34. Capital letter L. Printed as the first letter of Tableau 7 (from Exodus 14:16) in Taferelen der voornaamste geschiedenissen van het Oude en Nieuwe Testament. The Hague: Pieter de Hondt, 1728, 1: 103. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

Exodus 14: “[15] The Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward: [16] But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. . . . [21] And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. [22] And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground, and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.”

The engraving depicts the moment in which the sea is becoming dry ground. Melville underlined the italicized word “ground” in verse 16 above (Cowen 3:107). Above the receding water on the left is the “pillar of the cloud” through which God has led Moses and his followers throughout this extended episode. God had moved this “pillar of the cloud” so that it would come “between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel” before the waters parted (verses 19-20). Melville put a triple check next to God’s declaration in verse 18 that “the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord” (Cowen 3:107).

The commentary for this tableau in the Taferelen also records God’s command to Moses to “stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the waters will return and fall over the Egyptians, and over their chariots and equestrians” (1:107). The latter action is the subject of Hoet’s two-page folio plate. In White Jacket, Melville delightfully alludes to the two-step Red-Sea sequence in this passage: “During the pleasant night watches, the promenading officers, mounted on their high-heeled boots, pass dry-shod, like the Israelites, over the decks; but by daybreak the roaring tide sets back, and the poor sailors are almost overwhelmed in it, like the Egyptians in the Red Sea” (NN WJ 86-87).

The text on the verso of Melville’s engraving includes “de hand over de zé” (the hand over the sea). The phrase “in elkanderen” refers to the Egyptians “tumbling over one another.” In this engraving, Aaron is standing by Moses, as always, as God commanded. Lynn de Graaf suggests that the French-language spelling (“Exode chap”) of this and some other captions in the original Dutch edition may be an indication that Picart, the only Frenchman among the three primary artists, was the engraver (Hoet was Dutch and Houbraken was German).