As part of the preparation for our 20 years celebrations, our Chinese Bronzes and Women’s Library collections will be closed from Monday 26 February, reopening with the rest of our new season on Thursday 21 March.

Luca Giordano 1634–1705

The Brazen Serpent

This canvas is one of a pendant (pair) that illustrates two stories from the Old Testament: The Judgment of Solomon and The Brazen Serpent (CVCSC:0380.2.S). Here, Giordano reproduces the biblical episode of the ‘Bronze Serpent’. During the long walk in the desert, the Israelites, tired and suffering from hardship, revolted against Moses and the divine will. God punished them by sending poisonous snakes into their camp. Repentant, they begged Moses to save them. Having received a divine order, Moses cast a bronze snake and fastened it to a wooden pole - whoever fixed their eyes on it would be saved from the snake’s bite. 

The figures in the foreground are depicted more meticulously than those in the background, which appear less distinct. The colours are full of shadows, creating soft contrasts with the points of light. This pair of paintings date to Luca Giordano's maturity, when, influenced by sojourns in Venice and Florence, he adopted a new use of light and colour. These innovations were combined alongside a new sense of dramatic movement and had a major influence on Italian Baroque art. 

Signed: Jordano; Jordano/F.

Details

Artist

Luca Giordano 1634–1705

Title

The Brazen Serpent

Date

About 1690

Medium

Oil on canvas

Dimensions

62.5 x 75 cm (unframed); 82.5 x 94 cm (framed)

Reference

CVCSC:0380.2.S

Collection

Naples

Status

On Display

This pair of paintings depicting stories from the Old Testament date from Giordano’s later career where he began to move towards a more expressive use of light and colour. The Brazen Serpent depicts the people of Israel being attacked by a plague of serpents sent by God because of their lack of faith. Moses intercedes with God who instructs him to set up a fiery serpent on a pole because “everyone that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live” (Numbers 21:8). The brazen serpent acts as an image of saving faith, prefiguring the Crucifixion. In The Judgement of Solomon two women bring one living and one dead child before the King. The first tells Solomon that the second woman accidentally smothered her own child in the night and out of grief swapped their children over. Both women claim to be the living child’s mother and appeal to Solomon, who proposes to divide the child between the two women with a sword. The first woman implores him to give the child to the second, while the second approves of the bargain as she prefers that they both end up childless. Thus Solomon identifies the first woman as the child’s rightful mother. Giordano captures the dramatic moment of Solomon’s proposition, just as the sword is drawn.

Luca Giordano The Brazen Serpent About 1690 © Compton Verney