Lamentations over the Death of the First-Born of Egypt

Media - 1985.28 - SAAM-1985.28_1 - 67526
Copied Charles Sprague Pearce, Lamentations over the Death of the First-Born of Egypt, 1877, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1985.28
Free to use

Artwork Details

Lamentations over the Death of the First-Born of Egypt
38 1251 12 in. (97.8130.8 cm.)
Credit Line
Museum purchase
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • History — ancient — Egypt
  • State of being — emotion — sorrow
  • Figure group
Object Number

Artwork Description

Charles Sprague Pearce based this work on a passage from the biblical Book of Exodus describing the tenth plague of Egypt, in which God declared his intention to kill every first-born Egyptian child unless Pharaoh freed the Israelites.He instructed Moses to tell the Jews to mark their doors, so that their children would be spared.Pearce paints the aftermath of this vengeful slaughter, as these distraught parents prepare their son for burial.Shawabtis---clay figurines traditionally buried with the dead to accompany the body to the afterlife---litter the floor.In the Victorian era, when infant mortality was still prevalent and many parents endured the loss of a child, Pearce's Old Testament subject aroused all-too-modern feelings of grief.