The History of Art And The Curious Lives of Famous Painters

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Serpent Symbolism in  Western Painting

When language was not transcendental enough to complete the meaning of a revelation, symbols were relied upon for heavenly teaching, and familiar images, chosen from the known, were made to mirror the unknown spiritual truth. - William H. Hunt

The Bible does not narrate kindly about the snake. The "serpent," symbolizes Satan.

snake - symbolizes Satan; the presence of evil, fall of man

snake in a fruit tree - signifies the mans fall from grace as well as  Satan's meddling in the affairs of men.

snake cleaved in two pieces - implies destruction of heathen evil.

snake brazenly slithering across the middle of a thoroughfare or road - symbolizing the False Prophet leading the way to hell.

devious serpent peeking out of a basket, urn or pot - a spiritual reminder of Satan's presence in unusual places.

snake coiled around a skull -  is a symbol for death, both of the body and the spirit.

serpent and shamrock, symbol and emblem St. Patrick. The  Patron saint of Ireland. Died about 465 A.D.

snake peering out of a shoe or boot or in close proximity of footwear symbolizes that the wearer is in league with the devil or has a venereal disease

 chalice with a serpent is one of many symbols and emblems of John the Evangelist

silver shield with serpent intertwined around a bloodied sword - symbolizing the False Prophet. 

Snakes in the Bible

Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the Garden?

And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the Garden:

But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.

And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.

And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of they life.

The Meaning of Sacred Symbols in  Paintings. Most prominently featured  symbols and their meaning:

The  Serpent

Good Shepherd


Adam and Eve




Virgin Mary



The Anchor

The Apostles



Sun and Moon



The Cross


Household Object



Architectural Elements



The Saints








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“All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.”  - Oscar Wilde