This work of art hails from the early Christian culture in the thirteenth century (Marzio 61). The artist who made it is not known due to the cultural circumstances surrounding the art. The art is a monument was to be carried by a Catholic religious leader: It was usually buried with the leader, making it futile to track the artist who made it. The exact date of its execution is also unknown due to the reasons stated above.
The art itself reveals a Catholic saint, identified as Saint Michael, trampling the head of a huge serpent and forcing his sword into the mid portion of the animal (Marzio 61). The animal is huge and almost the same size as the man. However, the body shape of the man reveals fearlessness. The work of art represents the popular belief of the early Christian culture (Walker 17). The actions of Saint Michael in the art are symbolic of the role of a religious leader: He was the one to lead his flock in a spiritual battle against the fallen serpent and would be the church’s first line of defense whenever the serpent struck. The large size of the serpent represents the size of the spiritual challenge that Christians had to deal with at that time (Walker 26). The serpent is the dominant figure in the art, hence, representing the major purpose of Christian faith in the expositions of the time – to fight the extreme evil and malice of the devil. The artist uses the actions of the saint encourage Christians of the time to be fearless and to use their spiritual weapons effectively in trampling the malice of the serpent. Moreover, the artist bases their design on biblical teachings; the bible advises man to target the head of the serpent whenever they encounter one.
The shiny color of the saint and the dark color of the scaly body of the serpent provides excellent contrast that reveals the major figures in the design. The colors used are also symbolic. The shiny color of the saint symbolizes victory that Christians will earn in the end. The dark color of the serpent represents its evil and malice. The serpent, however, has a shiny undersurface that is devoid of scales, which represents its weaknesses. Therefore, the art directs Christians to identify and target the serpents head and underside – its strengths and weaknesses – in equal measure and with fearlessness.
The principle of line does not predominate in the design. The artist uses color sparingly, but to great effect. The colors carry great symbolism with them and are a source of important contrast. The shapes used in the art are also of unique importance. The curved shape of the serpent’s body is representative of the serpent’s agility in targeting the innocent people of God. The spiky shape of the serpent’s upper surface mirrors the animal’s scaly body and the hostility that the animal and what it symbolizes come with. The artist also uses repetition to expose the scaly body of the serpent to great effect – the spikes of the animal’s upper surface and the patter on the animal’s side. The art has perfect balance since the curved nature of the serpent’s body distributes the major aspects of the design to most areas. The art also has a perfect rhythm that directs the viewer towards its main features.
Finally, this art is a model with copper-gilt as its main material. The enamel that exposes the various shapes and patterns of the art is made of champlevé (Marzio 62). The description at the museum does not describe the technique used but it is most likely modeling of molten copper.
- Marzio, Peter C. A Permanent Legacy: 150 Works from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Hudson Hills Press in association with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1989.
- Walker, Kathleen. Chasing the Dragon’s Tale: Europe’s Fascination and Representation of the Dragon from the Twelfth to the Seventeenth Century. Diss. Kent State University, 2015.