Serpent Lady Picture

Most of us are familiar with the biblical tale of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and of the serpent that tempts the first woman to taste the fruit that will bring Knowledge of Good and Evil to all humanity. I have noticed that in some medieval and renaissance depictions of this pivotal scene, the serpent is shown not simply as a snake, but as a mysterious creature whose upper body is that of a sensuous female while the lower limbs have fused into the form of a writhing serpent. This Serpent Lady coils among the trunk and branches of the tree, whispering of the delights to be found in the flesh of the forbidden fruit.

Although I am not a Christian and do not ascribe to many aspects of a Judeo-Christian-Islamic worldview, these unusual depictions nonetheless intrigued me. Why would artists in antiquity choose to illustrate the Serpent in the Garden as distinctly female? Is it because they associated femininity with the introduction of sin into the world and with temptation? Would a female serpent entice a more sympathetic reaction from Eve than a wholly reptilian creature? Or were these artists trying to indicate an even deeper symbolic parallel between women and serpents? Perhaps artists in the renaissance, having access to Greek and Roman mythology, began to associate the biblical Serpent with the Sirens that tempted Odysseus with the promise of knowledge. I don't suppose that I can ever know for sure, but it certainly provides for food-for-thought which ended up inspiring this image.

Stylistically, the intricate patternwork was inspired by the delicate henna body art (mehndi) of India as well as by other east Asian designs (there are four Asian bats circling this Serpent Lady). It is an exploration in using line to define form and elaborate without the use of shading. It was created with a Venetian glass dip pen I received as a Yule present and the Italian writing ink that accompanied it (the ink is a beautiful deep crimson when wet yet dries to a warm umber, which I found to be oddly reminiscent to blood).

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