seated bare-chested man with a long white beard and wild hair, with a large drapery over his lap, holding a thick pole with his PL hand, with a snake twined around it, and a thin staff in his PR hand

Moses and the Brazen Serpent, 1787

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The story of Moses and the Brazen Serpent comes from the Bible (Numbers 21). God had sent the Israelites to wander in the wilderness as punishment for their sins. Forgetting that this exile had arisen from their own failings, they began to blame Moses for their misery. In judgement God sent poisonous serpents into their camp. This caused the people to come to Moses to confess their sins and to ask for God’s mercy. Moses prayed to God and received instructions to make a bronze serpent and set it up on a pole. When the people beheld the bronze serpent they were healed, thus restoring their faith in God. In Christianity, this passage is regarded as foreshadowing Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Benjamin West, the first American artist to achieve international fame, made this drawing while preparing to paint the subject for a church in Barbados. West’s keen interest in Classical art may be seen in the way he presents Moses almost as Helios, god of the sun.

Details
Title
Moses and the Brazen Serpent
Artist Life
1738 - 1820
Role
Artist
Accession Number
2015.88
Provenance
Private collection, England; sold Bloomsbury Auctions, London, July 25, 2014, lot 12; (Jean-Luc Baroni, Ltd.)
Curator Approved

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seated bare-chested man with a long white beard and wild hair, with a large drapery over his lap, holding a thick pole with his PL hand, with a snake twined around it, and a thin staff in his PR hand