Paintings owned by Jewish art collectors and taken by the Nazis make headlines when the collectors’ heirs try to reclaim the work without success.

A Dusseldorf museum, for example, is currently resisting the return of a painting by German Expressionist Franz Marc, who Hitler henchman Hermann Goring labeled “degenerate.”

No pressure

Also in contention at the moment is the painting "Moses Striking a Rock" by 16th-century Dutch artist Abraham Bloemaert. Art Daily reports that even though several institutions agree it was sold “as a result of Nazi persecution,” the Met, the current owner of the painting, rejects the claim arguing there is not enough evidence that the work was sold under duress.

It’s complicated

The restitution issue is admittedly complicated given that more than 80 years after the fact have passed. Art Daily quotes Berlin lawyer Friederike von Bruhl’s criteria for judging restitution questions: What’s the date of sale? Was the purchase price “adequate”? Were the sellers “free in spending the proceeds”?

Certainly, the date of “sale” is key to restitution. But whether the price was high enough raises another question: Who decides the fairness of the price? And whose business is it how a seller spends his profits?

Bad painting

But, here’s the thing. This Bloemaert painting is awful, which has me wondering why it’s prized at all. Consider the picture title – Moses Striking the Rock – a reference to a seminal event in the Old Testament.

But that’s not what you see.

Main event

The central figure, the one that pops out at you, is not Moses. Instead, it’s a half-nude woman posed like some pole dancer in a strip club and with a self-satisfied expression her face. How can that be in a desert where people are thirsting for water and beseeching Moses for help?

Besides, there’s no mention of a nude woman in this Bible story.

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As for Moses hitting the rock, if you scrutinize the far-left side of the canvas you may spot him half-hidden in shadows.

Clearly, the painter misses the whole point of the story, which began when in their 40-year trek across the desert from Egypt to Israel, the Israelites ran out of water.

The point

According to Numbers 20:8-11, when Moses turned to God for help, he was told to speak to the rock.

Instead, he struck the rock in a fit of temper with his complaining followers.

Do I hear a “so what?” Take into consideration that disobeying direct instructions from on high resulted in a punishment that kept him out of the promised land.

True confessions

The Met’s exhibit literature overlooks the Bible story. Unaccountably, though, the museum acknowledges that Moses is “near hidden in shadow.” It also freely recognizes the presence of “the monumental bare-breasted woman,” admitting that she “overshadows the ostensible subject.”

The museum even grants “the painter’s priority to be the depiction of a variety of idealized bodies.” Apparently, all that is OK with the Met. So, we’re left with the question, why covet this thing?