Il Castigo dei Serpenti by Giambattista Tiepolo is an exceptional work both for the quality of the painting and the originality of the composition. It is a long freeze, painted in the 1730s, and originally meant for the lower part of the barco in the church of SS. Cosma e Damiano.
The painting represents a dramatic scene: during the long march of the Jews in the desert, some of them revolted against Moses. God punished the rebels by showering snakes on them like poisoned arrows. To stop the massacre, Moses prayed to God who told to build a bronze serpent, a prefiguration of the Crucifix. Anyone struck by a serpent who would look at the bronze serpent, would have had his life spared.
The freeze comprises the representation of three episodes, each one framed in ornamental motifs imitating various materials: gilded or laquered wood and stuccoes with sumptuous eighteenth-century designs.
In the early nineteenth century, after the Napoleonic decrees, the painting was moved from the church of SS. Cosma e Damiano to the church of
Santa Maria e San Liberale in Castelfranco Veneto, near Treviso, where it remained rolled up for a long time in an attic next to the church, resulting in major damage.
Since 1982, Il castigo dei Serpenti has been kept in the deposits of the Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia. Notwithstanding a few restoration attempts, the painting continues to show signs of serious damage, including lacunae, scratches, abrasions, due to its having remained rolled up for so long.
The restoration, currently under way, is dedicated to Lawrence D. Lovett, founder of Venetian Heritage. After having been restored, the painting will be permanently exhibited at the Museo delle Gallerie dell’Accademia in Room 6 on the ground floor, furnished thanks to another project financed by Venetian Heritage.