Crespi Family
Bologna, mid XVIII century and beyond

Joseph and the Bronze Serpent

Oil on canvas, 103 x 85 cm (41 x 33 inches)

Keep quiet and walk, was the unspoken warning, “but the people – led by Moses, having left the Mount for the Red Sea – could not endure the trip,” complaining, “why did you make us leave Egypt to die in this desert? … Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people whom they bit and a large number of Israelites died.” Those who had looked at the bronze serpent erected by the Prophet on the orders of the Lord, moved by pity, were saved however (Old Testament: 21, 4-9). The miracle was such that, still some time afterwards, “the Israelites burned incense to it and called it Necustan” (subsequently killed by King Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz King of Judah). Crespi and his family seem to have been inspired by a print dated 1597 after a painting by Fenzoni of Faenza (Fig. 9).


Fig. 9: Francesco Villamena, Joseph and the Bronze Serpent. London, The British Museum.