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Friday 11 August 2017

Crispin van de Passe I’s engraving, “The Brazen Serpent”, c1590

Crispin van de Passe I (aka Crispijn de Passe) (1564–1637)

“The Brazen Serpent”, c1590, engraved and published by van de Passe I (as inscribed on the plate)

Engraving with light plate tone on fine laid paper with watermark
Inscribed within the image border at the lower left: “Crisp. De Pass / Inuen.. Scul. et excud.”
Inscribed below the image borderline in four lines of Latin from the Bible: “Faciebat Moses … euaderet. Numeror. 21.”

Hollstein 18
See also the description on this print at the Rijksmuseum:

Condition: Marvellously crisp impression with margins and in near faultless condition.

I am selling this superb illustration of an episode from the Bible where Moses erects a bronze sculpture of a snake/serpent and advises his followers to gaze upon it so that they would not be harmed by the “fiery serpents” sent by God to bite those who were grumbling about the hardships that they were facing during their exodus from Egypt—my apologies if my version of the story is not quite correct—for AU$198 (currently US$156.23/EUR132.15/GBP120.46 at the time of this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world.

If you are interested in purchasing this high-quality engraving, please contact me ( and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

This print has been sold

Perhaps the idea of illustrating a scene where tired and grumbly folk are being bitten by snakes would lean most artists into envisaging a similar scene as shown here. Certainly, Crispin van de Passe has presented a visual feast of writhing people and very wriggly snakes that seems appropriate.

What makes his illustration especially interesting for me, however, is not just that he has portrayed a plethora of snakes and agitated people, but that the composition is a fine example of the Mannerist code of pictorial devices. Note for example that the use of side-lighting does not really give solidity and form to the figures in the turmoil. Instead the pattern of strong contrasts of light and dark adds to the confusion of violent action. Note also that the proportions of the figures are not based on reality (e.g. the proportions of the male figure in the immediate foreground would make an interesting sight if he were to stand on his very long legs and tiny feet), but rather on the need to keep the rhythms of the composition fluid and complex.

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