Jacob Jordaens, Moses and his Ethiopian Wife, c.1650
Oil on Canvas, Rubenshuis, Antwerp
In early versions of the Old Testament, there is a passage which describes Moses introducing his Moorish or Ethiopian wife to his sister Miriam and his brother Aaron. Miriam and Aaron do not accept Moses’s black bride and are punished for that by God. In this film clip, Art historian Elizabeth McGrath describes how Jordaens painting refers to this Biblical passage.
Moses wife is known in the Bible as Zipporah. Shes usually portrayed as a European woman, but in early Christian sources Moses had another wife, an Ethiopian. Moses bigamy didnt suit the church. In later translations of the Bible, Moses two wives were merged into one: Zipporah. The black wife disappeared into the background. Jordaens was a Calvinist and an avid reader. He was most likely aware of the early Christian story about the second Ethiopian wife.
(Text adapted from Black is Beautiful exhibition information)