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 Gaulli, Giovanni Battista (Italian painter, 1639-1709) , The Virgin with the Christ Child Piercing the Head of the Serpent

Core Record

Title The Virgin with the Christ Child Piercing the Head of the Serpent
Original Translation Madonna della Serpe
Collection Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Artist Gaulli, Giovanni Battista (Italian painter, 1639-1709)
Date Earliest about 1690
Date Latest about 1698

Gaulli was born in Genoa and later became known as Baciccia or Baciccio. Once in Rome, he came to the notice of Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), then the most famous artist in Europe, and began to secure commissions. His style is indebted to that of Bernini.

The subject matter is based on the so-called 'proto-evangelium', the verse in the Old Testament book of Genesis which alludes to the destruction of Satan by Christ. God addressed the serpent saying:

I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. (Genesis 3.15)
Christ and the Virgin are shown as the New Adam and New Eve, a typological comparison which is made explicit by the presence of the apple in Christ's hand and the gesture of the Virgin who points to the serpent. Christ is about to crush the head of the beast with a cross, the sign of his redeeming sacrifice.

Current Accession Number 1999Q15
Subject religion (Genesis 3.15)
Measurements 142.7 x 99.6 cm cm (estimate)
Material oil on canvas
Acquisition Details Lent by Sir Denis Mahon, CBE, FBA 1999.
Provenance The Reverend H. V. Nicoll-Griffith before 1941; presented by him to Swanage Parish Church, 1941; Sotheby's sale, London, 21 July 1965, lot 178A, bought by Denis Mahon.
Principal Exhibitions , Oberlin, 1967, cat. no. 15; Discovering the Italian Baroque: The Denis Mahon Collection,, National Gallery, London, 1997, cat. no. 25.
Publications Enggas, R., 'Addenda to Baciccio: II, The Burlington Magazine, vol. 106, 1964, p. 510; Finaldi, G., and M. Kitson, Discovering the Italian Baroque, The Denis Mahon Collection, National Gallery, London, 1997, no. 25.

The painting is to be bequeathed to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery on Sir Denis Mahon's death.

Inscriptions on reverse of canvas, 1. 'Gio.Agos Geminiano/1629' (possibly Giacinto Gimignani (1606 - 1681) is meant); This inscription is repeated on the stretcher; 2. 'PRESENTED TO/SWANAGE PARISH CHURCH/BY/1941. REV. H. V. NICOLL-GRIFFITH.RECTO'; 3. '1338'.

The painting was recognised as by Gaulli by Ellis Waterhouse when it was in St Mary's Parish Church, Swanage. The painting is likely to date from the 1690s as it has close formal similarities with the altarpiece of 1697-8, the Christ and the Virgin with Saint Nicholas of Bari made for the Roman church of Santa Maria Maddalena. However, the type of Christ Child in this painting and the cherub heads are similar to those seen in Rest on the Flight to Egypt, about 1671 (Rome, Galleria Nazionale).

A compositional drawing for this painting is in Dusseldorf, inv. No. FP 1973. A more highly finished drawing in red chalk, also in Dusseldorf, almost certainly by Gaulli himself, is squared for transfer and records the final stage of preparation before the painting was begun.

Rights Owner Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Author Dr Patricia Smyth



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