During the Exodus Moses and the Israelites were often in deep, mortal danger—perhaps none more dangerous as when they ran out of water. Moses’ leadership (and safety) came under question (Exodus 17:4), with Moses crying out to the Creator that he needed help, and that his people were about ready to stone him. The answer came quickly, with Moses directed to strike a rock with his staff, the resulting action bringing water/a stream from the rock (Exodus 17:5-6).
And that’s what is going on here in this little scene from a 15th century (unfortunately unspecified) French Bible. The rare use of almost all white set against a blue background gives the whole a marble-like, lifeless effect—which seems to mirror the sense of nothingness in the Israelites reactions to the great miracle. Their prayers were answered, but their anticipation of fulfillment and the act itself goes emotionally unregistered.
Moses also looks removed, gently touching the rock with a rod which s very lightly controlled by a mostly-open hand—his bearing is one of great lightness.
This scene is often repeated and represented throughout the history of art, though usually with more (or actually, “some”) emotional quality. When the scene is depicted with little emotion it seems usually to be a small piece of art, a touchstone, showing just the head of Moses/the rock/the staff, a bit of simple visual shorthand to remind eh viewer of the story (as in the work by Giotto in 1305). Generally though the scene is shown in high drama, as with the work of Joachim Anthonisz Wtewael (1664), Abraham Blaemaert (1596), Nicolas Poussin (1649), and many others. Sometimes in some very early work the woodcutters show Moses wielding his staff over his head, getting ready it seems to crack the rock open. Bu not here, not in this image—the emotion of the scene has been literally whitewashed away…it is beautiful, but it is a cold beauty of nothing.