Venice 1655-Villabona (Rovigo) 1730
Moses and the bronze serpent
oil on canvas, 118×152.5 cm
The motif of this dramatic painting is the episode from the Bible in which the Israelites, guilty of having revolted against Moses and the Lord, are persecuted by poisonous snakes. Moved to compassion, “the Lord told Moses: – Make for yourself a fiery serpent and place it on a pole; and it will be that anyone who was bitten will look at it and live -. And Moses made a bronze serpent and placed it on a pole; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent he lived” (Numbers 21, 4-9). In fact, the painting shows the panicking Israelites in the foreground, Moses who is indicating the bronze serpent raised on a pole to the people, and some unfortunate who are already turning to it for salvation.
The painting is the work of Gregorio Lazzarini, an excellent painter who was a leading figure in Venice, characterized by an Emilian academic taste contrasting both with the declining local movement of the “gloomy” and with the incipient Barocchetto. Among others, the great Giambattista Tiepolo received his education in his workshop, which was rewarded by the patronage of wealthy international customers. As to the other works of the Venetian artist, the most relevant comparison may be with Orpheus and the Bacchants at the Cà Rezzonico, from 1698 (see R. Pallucchini, Venetian painting of the Seventeenth century, 2 volumes, Milan, 1981, 2, p. 990, fig. 1225), and this painting probably dates to the same period. It is for instance interesting to observe the lying child with its face turned backwards, and the bearded man in the same pose in this painting.
The large canvas comes, through inheritances, from the Schiavoni collection, an ancient collection of paintings, mostly Venetian, and has been indicated as the work of Pietro Liberi in printed inventories of the collection (L. Sernagiotto, Natale and Felice Schiavoni. Life, works, times, Venice, 1881, p. 636; Collection de tableaux anciens […], Venice, 1883, no. 14) and with the correct attribution to Lazzarini in an inventory of the Directorship of the Royal Venetian Galleries dated 26 April 1886 (n. 14).