Collection Online
Moses bringing down the Tables of the Law

Moses bringing down the Tables of the Law
cartoon (1850s); painting (1872)-1877

oil on paper on canvas
344.5 × 634.5 cm irreg.
Place/s of Execution
London, England
inscribed in brown paint l.c.l.: J. R. HERBERT. RA. mem C Institute of France. 1877. / copyright reserved.
Accession Number
International Painting
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1878
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of Digitisation Champion Ms Carol Grigor through Metal Manufactures Limited
Gallery location
Not on display

Commissioned from the artist, 1872; arrived Melbourne, 1878.

Herbert was a popular artist in Victorian Britain who specialised in portraiture and illustration. In his later career he turned to painting romantic genre scenes and biblical themes. This monumental work was painted over a preparatory drawing on paper used by the artist to create a large mural in the House of Lords, London. Purchased in 1878, this was the largest and most expensive painting the Gallery had ever acquired. This reflected the attitudes and ideals of the first trustees of the Gallery, who saw art as a means to raise the moral and aesthetic sensibilities of colonial Melbourne’s growing citizenry.


[1] An invoice from the Office of the Agent-General for Victoria, dated 10th January, 1873, for Mr A. Smith, (late J. Green), for a frame 20 ft. 11 ins. x 12 ft. 1 in identifies the frame maker.

One frame 20ft 11” by 12ft 1” carved 13” moulding prepared & gilt throughout in Dead & Burnish gold.  Richly ornamented screwed & Bolted together with wedge folding stretcher of Best quality pine.           £ 30,0,0,

One packing case of 2nd Quality Pine. This lined Double Cased. …… & …… dovetailed Inside measurement 14ft 4 – 3ft 6 – 2 ft Deep     £5,17, 0 .

Remarkably the account for this frame gives a cost in 1873 of £30.0.0., including the stretcher for the painting.  The frame is essentially classical revival in style but very large in scale.

W. A. Smith
14 Charles St, Middlesex Hospital London

The frame is made in six sections. Two complete sections form either end while the top and bottom horizontal sections are joined in the centre with metal plates screwed into recesses in the rebate and back edge with additional plates across the back. The mitred corners are held with tie bolts fitted into captured nuts. The frame is massive in section and made to break down into components for travel from London to Melbourne.[1]

The frame sections are profiled laminated wood with applied composition ornament. The torus is of imbricated laurel and berry, cast in composition and wrapped around a wooden core. The scotia ornament is of repeating anthemion and palmettes. The back edge ornament is ribbon and stick. The gilding varies from matt, oil and water gilding, to burnished water gilding on grey/black bole. The gilding on the greater part of the frame is matt on either a water or oil base but there is clever use of burnishing to highlight the berries on the torus, three of the leaves in each anthemion on the scotia, the bells and berries on the flat and the adjacent astragal. This articulation of the gilding is noted in the invoice as Dead & Burnish gold.


The frame is in good original condition with some losses to the composition ornament. After years in storage it was cleaned of accumulated surface dirt and deteriorated surface coatings in 2015 and refitted to the painting.

H 402cm x W 691cm x D 23cm; sight 340 cm x 630 cm
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National Portrait Gallery