This portrait miniature of Hester Middleton is one of five that artist Mary Roberts painted of a group of cousins—the children of brothers William and Henry Middleton—in the mid-eighteenth century. The brothers and their children were separated by transatlantic distance: William lived in Charleston, South Carolina, while Henry resided in Suffolk, England.
The commission of this set of portraits symbolizes the Middleton family’s affirmation of the strength and intimacy of their kinship across a vast ocean. By virtue of their diminutive size and delicate artistry, the portraits ask to be cradled in one’s palm, held close to the beholder’s eyes. Through the intensity of their gaze and the feelings of affection these objects inspired, the beholder and the beheld might momentarily transcend the barrier of distance.
The installation of the tabernacle in their midst can also be interpreted as the Israelites’ affirmation of intimacy through simultaneous closeness and distance. The materials offered for building and furnishing the tabernacle were the people’s most cherished possessions: gold jewellery, silver and bronze tableware, linens and animal skins, stones and gems, oils and spices. By offering their prized belongings for the communal construction of the tabernacle, the Israelites traded in their closeness to personal objects for closeness to God.
Likewise, the craftspeople who made the tabernacle’s furnishings spent a great deal of time forming visual and tactile bonds with the materials they handled. Imagine the fingers of the weavers and embroiderers as they worked the linen, coloured yarns, and goats’ hair into curtains and coverings; the jewellers and engravers knitting their brows in concentration as they cut and set the stones for the priestly garments; the arms of the carpenters and metalworkers swinging arcs in the air as they hammered wood, silver, bronze, and gold into pillars, posts, basins, and lamps.
Once the completed work was handed over to Moses, only he and the descendants of Levi—God’s chosen priests—could enter the tabernacle. Hereafter, the Israelites were confined to seeing their former possessions and the creations of their hands from the entrances of their tents and in altered form. And yet, this new physical distance heralded a new spiritual and relational intimacy with their God. With God residing in the sanctuary, the Israelites were assured that the divine spirit would accompany them at every stage of their wilderness journey.
35 Moses assembled all the congregation of the people of Israel, and said to them, “These are the things which the Lord has commanded you to do. 2Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy sabbath of solemn rest to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death; 3you shall kindle no fire in all your habitations on the sabbath day.”
4 Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing which the Lord has commanded. 5Take from among you an offering to the Lord; whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord’s offering: gold, silver, and bronze; 6blue and purple and scarlet stuff and fine twined linen; goats’ hair, 7tanned rams’ skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, 8oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, 9and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece.
10 “And let every able man among you come and make all that the Lord has commanded: the tabernacle, 11its tent and its covering, its hooks and its frames, its bars, its pillars, and its bases; 12the ark with its poles, the mercy seat, and the veil of the screen; 13the table with its poles and all its utensils, and the bread of the Presence; 14the lampstand also for the light, with its utensils and its lamps, and the oil for the light; 15and the altar of incense, with its poles, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, and the screen for the door, at the door of the tabernacle; 16the altar of burnt offering, with its grating of bronze, its poles, and all its utensils, the laver and its base; 17the hangings of the court, its pillars and its bases, and the screen for the gate of the court; 18the pegs of the tabernacle and the pegs of the court, and their cords; 19the finely wrought garments for ministering in the holy place, the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests.”
20 Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. 21And they came, every one whose heart stirred him, and every one whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s offering to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. 22So they came, both men and women; all who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the Lord. 23And every man with whom was found blue or purple or scarlet stuff or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or goatskins, brought them. 24Every one who could make an offering of silver or bronze brought it as the Lord’s offering; and every man with whom was found acacia wood of any use in the work, brought it. 25And all women who had ability spun with their hands, and brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet stuff and fine twined linen; 26all the women whose hearts were moved with ability spun the goats’ hair. 27And the leaders brought onyx stones and stones to be set, for the ephod and for the breastpiece, 28and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. 29All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work which the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done, brought it as their freewill offering to the Lord.
30 And Moses said to the people of Israel, “See, the Lord has called by name Bezʹalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; 31and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, 32to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, 33in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. 34And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Ohoʹliab the son of Ahisʹamach of the tribe of Dan. 35He has filled them with ability to do every sort of work done by a craftsman or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet stuff and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer.
36 Bezʹalel and Ohoʹliab and every able man in whom the Lord has put ability and intelligence to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the Lord has commanded.”
2 And Moses called Bezʹalel and Ohoʹliab and every able man in whose mind the Lord had put ability, every one whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work; 3and they received from Moses all the freewill offering which the people of Israel had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, 4so that all the able men who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task that he was doing, 5and said to Moses, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work which the Lord has commanded us to do.” 6So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let neither man nor woman do anything more for the offering for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing; 7for the stuff they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more.
8 And all the able men among the workmen made the tabernacle with ten curtains; they were made of fine twined linen and blue and purple and scarlet stuff, with cherubim skilfully worked. 9The length of each curtain was twenty-eight cubits, and the breadth of each curtain four cubits; all the curtains had the same measure.
10 And he coupled five curtains to one another, and the other five curtains he coupled to one another. 11And he made loops of blue on the edge of the outmost curtain of the first set; likewise he made them on the edge of the outmost curtain of the second set; 12he made fifty loops on the one curtain, and he made fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that was in the second set; the loops were opposite one another. 13And he made fifty clasps of gold, and coupled the curtains one to the other with clasps; so the tabernacle was one whole.
14 He also made curtains of goats’ hair for a tent over the tabernacle; he made eleven curtains. 15The length of each curtain was thirty cubits, and the breadth of each curtain four cubits; the eleven curtains had the same measure. 16He coupled five curtains by themselves, and six curtains by themselves. 17And he made fifty loops on the edge of the outmost curtain of the one set, and fifty loops on the edge of the other connecting curtain. 18And he made fifty clasps of bronze to couple the tent together that it might be one whole. 19And he made for the tent a covering of tanned rams’ skins and goatskins.
20 Then he made the upright frames for the tabernacle of acacia wood. 21Ten cubits was the length of a frame, and a cubit and a half the breadth of each frame. 22Each frame had two tenons, for fitting together; he did this for all the frames of the tabernacle. 23The frames for the tabernacle he made thus: twenty frames for the south side; 24and he made forty bases of silver under the twenty frames, two bases under one frame for its two tenons, and two bases under another frame for its two tenons. 25And for the second side of the tabernacle, on the north side, he made twenty frames 26and their forty bases of silver, two bases under one frame and two bases under another frame. 27And for the rear of the tabernacle westward he made six frames. 28And he made two frames for corners of the tabernacle in the rear. 29And they were separate beneath, but joined at the top, at the first ring; he made two of them thus, for the two corners. 30There were eight frames with their bases of silver: sixteen bases, under every frame two bases.
31 And he made bars of acacia wood, five for the frames of the one side of the tabernacle, 32and five bars for the frames of the other side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the frames of the tabernacle at the rear westward. 33And he made the middle bar to pass through from end to end halfway up the frames. 34And he overlaid the frames with gold, and made their rings of gold for holders for the bars, and overlaid the bars with gold.
35 And he made the veil of blue and purple and scarlet stuff and fine twined linen; with cherubim skilfully worked he made it. 36And for it he made four pillars of acacia, and overlaid them with gold; their hooks were of gold, and he cast for them four bases of silver. 37He also made a screen for the door of the tent, of blue and purple and scarlet stuff and fine twined linen, embroidered with needlework; 38and its five pillars with their hooks. He overlaid their capitals, and their fillets were of gold, but their five bases were of bronze.
37 Bezʹalel made the ark of acacia wood; two cubits and a half was its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. 2And he overlaid it with pure gold within and without, and made a molding of gold around it. 3And he cast for it four rings of gold for its four corners, two rings on its one side and two rings on its other side. 4And he made poles of acacia wood, and overlaid them with gold, 5and put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark. 6And he made a mercy seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half was its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. 7And he made two cherubim of hammered gold; on the two ends of the mercy seat he made them, 8one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece with the mercy seat he made the cherubim on its two ends. 9The cherubim spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, with their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat were the faces of the cherubim.
10 He also made the table of acacia wood; two cubits was its length, a cubit its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height; 11and he overlaid it with pure gold, and made a molding of gold around it. 12And he made around it a frame a handbreadth wide, and made a molding of gold around the frame. 13He cast for it four rings of gold, and fastened the rings to the four corners at its four legs. 14Close to the frame were the rings, as holders for the poles to carry the table. 15He made the poles of acacia wood to carry the table, and overlaid them with gold. 16And he made the vessels of pure gold which were to be upon the table, its plates and dishes for incense, and its bowls and flagons with which to pour libations.
17 He also made the lampstand of pure gold. The base and the shaft of the lampstand were made of hammered work; its cups, its capitals, and its flowers were of one piece with it. 18And there were six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; 19three cups made like almonds, each with capital and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almonds, each with capital and flower, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. 20And on the lampstand itself were four cups made like almonds, with their capitals and flowers, 21and a capital of one piece with it under each pair of the six branches going out of it. 22Their capitals and their branches were of one piece with it; the whole of it was one piece of hammered work of pure gold. 23And he made its seven lamps and its snuffers and its trays of pure gold. 24He made it and all its utensils of a talent of pure gold.
25 He made the altar of incense of acacia wood; its length was a cubit, and its breadth was a cubit; it was square, and two cubits was its height; its horns were of one piece with it. 26He overlaid it with pure gold, its top, and its sides round about, and its horns; and he made a molding of gold round about it, 27and made two rings of gold on it under its molding, on two opposite sides of it, as holders for the poles with which to carry it. 28And he made the poles of acacia wood, and overlaid them with gold.
29 He made the holy anointing oil also, and the pure fragrant incense, blended as by the perfumer.
38 He made the altar of burnt offering also of acacia wood; five cubits was its length, and five cubits its breadth; it was square, and three cubits was its height. 2He made horns for it on its four corners; its horns were of one piece with it, and he overlaid it with bronze. 3And he made all the utensils of the altar, the pots, the shovels, the basins, the forks, and the firepans; all its utensils he made of bronze. 4And he made for the altar a grating, a network of bronze, under its ledge, extending halfway down. 5He cast four rings on the four corners of the bronze grating as holders for the poles; 6he made the poles of acacia wood, and overlaid them with bronze. 7And he put the poles through the rings on the sides of the altar, to carry it with them; he made it hollow, with boards.
8 And he made the laver of bronze and its base of bronze, from the mirrors of the ministering women who ministered at the door of the tent of meeting.
9 And he made the court; for the south side the hangings of the court were of fine twined linen, a hundred cubits; 10their pillars were twenty and their bases twenty, of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their fillets were of silver. 11And for the north side a hundred cubits, their pillars twenty, their bases twenty, of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their fillets were of silver. 12And for the west side were hangings of fifty cubits, their pillars ten, and their sockets ten; the hooks of the pillars and their fillets were of silver. 13And for the front to the east, fifty cubits. 14The hangings for one side of the gate were fifteen cubits, with three pillars and three bases. 15And so for the other side; on this hand and that hand by the gate of the court were hangings of fifteen cubits, with three pillars and three bases. 16All the hangings round about the court were of fine twined linen. 17And the bases for the pillars were of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their fillets were of silver; the overlaying of their capitals was also of silver, and all the pillars of the court were filleted with silver. 18And the screen for the gate of the court was embroidered with needlework in blue and purple and scarlet stuff and fine twined linen; it was twenty cubits long and five cubits high in its breadth, corresponding to the hangings of the court. 19And their pillars were four; their four bases were of bronze, their hooks of silver, and the overlaying of their capitals and their fillets of silver. 20And all the pegs for the tabernacle and for the court round about were of bronze.
21 This is the sum of the things for the tabernacle, the tabernacle of the testimony, as they were counted at the commandment of Moses, for the work of the Levites under the direction of Ithʹamar the son of Aaron the priest. 22Bezʹalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the Lord commanded Moses; 23and with him was Ohoʹliab the son of Ahisʹamach, of the tribe of Dan, a craftsman and designer and embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet stuff and fine twined linen.
24 All the gold that was used for the work, in all the construction of the sanctuary, the gold from the offering, was twenty-nine talents and seven hundred and thirty shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary. 25And the silver from those of the congregation who were numbered was a hundred talents and a thousand seven hundred and seventy-five shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary: 26a beka a head (that is, half a shekel, by the shekel of the sanctuary), for every one who was numbered in the census, from twenty years old and upward, for six hundred and three thousand, five hundred and fifty men. 27The hundred talents of silver were for casting the bases of the sanctuary, and the bases of the veil; a hundred bases for the hundred talents, a talent for a base. 28And of the thousand seven hundred and seventy-five shekels he made hooks for the pillars, and overlaid their capitals and made fillets for them. 29And the bronze that was contributed was seventy talents, and two thousand and four hundred shekels; 30with it he made the bases for the door of the tent of meeting, the bronze altar and the bronze grating for it and all the utensils of the altar, 31the bases round about the court, and the bases of the gate of the court, all the pegs of the tabernacle, and all the pegs round about the court.
39 And of the blue and purple and scarlet stuff they made finely wrought garments, for ministering in the holy place; they made the holy garments for Aaron; as the Lord had commanded Moses.
2 And he made the ephod of gold, blue and purple and scarlet stuff, and fine twined linen. 3And gold leaf was hammered out and cut into threads to work into the blue and purple and the scarlet stuff, and into the fine twined linen, in skilled design. 4They made for the ephod shoulder-pieces, joined to it at its two edges. 5And the skilfully woven band upon it, to gird it on, was of the same materials and workmanship, of gold, blue and purple and scarlet stuff, and fine twined linen; as the Lord had commanded Moses.
6 The onyx stones were prepared, enclosed in settings of gold filigree and engraved like the engravings of a signet, according to the names of the sons of Israel. 7And he set them on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, to be stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel; as the Lord had commanded Moses.
8 He made the breastpiece, in skilled work, like the work of the ephod, of gold, blue and purple and scarlet stuff, and fine twined linen. 9It was square; the breastpiece was made double, a span its length and a span its breadth when doubled. 10And they set in it four rows of stones. A row of sardius, topaz, and carbuncle was the first row; 11and the second row, an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond; 12and the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; 13and the fourth row, a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper; they were enclosed in settings of gold filigree. 14There were twelve stones with their names according to the names of the sons of Israel; they were like signets, each engraved with its name, for the twelve tribes. 15And they made on the breastpiece twisted chains like cords, of pure gold; 16and they made two settings of gold filigree and two gold rings, and put the two rings on the two edges of the breastpiece; 17and they put the two cords of gold in the two rings at the edges of the breastpiece. 18Two ends of the two cords they had attached to the two settings of filigree; thus they attached it in front to the shoulder-pieces of the ephod. 19Then they made two rings of gold, and put them at the two ends of the breastpiece, on its inside edge next to the ephod. 20And they made two rings of gold, and attached them in front to the lower part of the two shoulder-pieces of the ephod, at its joining above the skilfully woven band of the ephod. 21And they bound the breastpiece by its rings to the rings of the ephod with a lace of blue, so that it should lie upon the skilfully woven band of the ephod, and that the breastpiece should not come loose from the ephod; as the Lord had commanded Moses.
22 He also made the robe of the ephod woven all of blue; 23and the opening of the robe in it was like the opening in a garment, with a binding around the opening, that it might not be torn. 24On the skirts of the robe they made pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet stuff and fine twined linen. 25They also made bells of pure gold, and put the bells between the pomegranates upon the skirts of the robe round about, between the pomegranates; 26a bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate round about upon the skirts of the robe for ministering; as the Lord had commanded Moses.
27 They also made the coats, woven of fine linen, for Aaron and his sons, 28and the turban of fine linen, and the caps of fine linen, and the linen breeches of fine twined linen, 29and the girdle of fine twined linen and of blue and purple and scarlet stuff, embroidered with needlework; as the Lord had commanded Moses.
30 And they made the plate of the holy crown of pure gold, and wrote upon it an inscription, like the engraving of a signet, “Holy to the Lord.” 31And they tied to it a lace of blue, to fasten it on the turban above; as the Lord had commanded Moses.
32 Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was finished; and the people of Israel had done according to all that the Lord had commanded Moses; so had they done. 33And they brought the tabernacle to Moses, the tent and all its utensils, its hooks, its frames, its bars, its pillars, and its bases; 34the covering of tanned rams’ skins and goatskins, and the veil of the screen; 35the ark of the testimony with its poles and the mercy seat; 36the table with all its utensils, and the bread of the Presence; 37the lampstand of pure gold and its lamps with the lamps set and all its utensils, and the oil for the light; 38the golden altar, the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, and the screen for the door of the tent; 39the bronze altar, and its grating of bronze, its poles, and all its utensils; the laver and its base; 40the hangings of the court, its pillars, and its bases, and the screen for the gate of the court, its cords, and its pegs; and all the utensils for the service of the tabernacle, for the tent of meeting; 41the finely worked garments for ministering in the holy place, the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons to serve as priests. 42According to all that the Lord had commanded Moses, so the people of Israel had done all the work. 43And Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it; as the Lord had commanded, so had they done it. And Moses blessed them.
40 The Lord said to Moses, 2“On the first day of the first month you shall erect the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. 3And you shall put in it the ark of the testimony, and you shall screen the ark with the veil. 4And you shall bring in the table, and set its arrangements in order; and you shall bring in the lampstand, and set up its lamps. 5And you shall put the golden altar for incense before the ark of the testimony, and set up the screen for the door of the tabernacle. 6You shall set the altar of burnt offering before the door of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, 7and place the laver between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it. 8And you shall set up the court round about, and hang up the screen for the gate of the court. 9Then you shall take the anointing oil, and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture; and it shall become holy. 10You shall also anoint the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and consecrate the altar; and the altar shall be most holy. 11You shall also anoint the laver and its base, and consecrate it. 12Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the door of the tent of meeting, and shall wash them with water, 13and put upon Aaron the holy garments, and you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve me as priest. 14You shall bring his sons also and put coats on them, 15and anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may serve me as priests: and their anointing shall admit them to a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations.”
16 Thus did Moses; according to all that the Lord commanded him, so he did. 17And in the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was erected. 18Moses erected the tabernacle; he laid its bases, and set up its frames, and put in its poles, and raised up its pillars; 19and he spread the tent over the tabernacle, and put the covering of the tent over it, as the Lord had commanded Moses. 20And he took the testimony and put it into the ark, and put the poles on the ark, and set the mercy seat above on the ark; 21and he brought the ark into the tabernacle, and set up the veil of the screen, and screened the ark of the testimony; as the Lord had commanded Moses. 22And he put the table in the tent of meeting, on the north side of the tabernacle, outside the veil, 23and set the bread in order on it before the Lord; as the Lord had commanded Moses. 24And he put the lampstand in the tent of meeting, opposite the table on the south side of the tabernacle, 25and set up the lamps before the Lord; as the Lord had commanded Moses. 26And he put the golden altar in the tent of meeting before the veil, 27and burnt fragrant incense upon it; as the Lord had commanded Moses. 28And he put in place the screen for the door of the tabernacle. 29And he set the altar of burnt offering at the door of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, and offered upon it the burnt offering and the cereal offering; as the Lord had commanded Moses. 30And he set the laver between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it for washing, 31with which Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet; 32when they went into the tent of meeting, and when they approached the altar, they washed; as the Lord commanded Moses. 33And he erected the court round the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work.
34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 36Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would go onward; 37but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not go onward till the day that it was taken up. 38For throughout all their journeys the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.