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The Serpent Charmer

Earl Shinn ["Edward Strahan'], Gerome: A Collection of the Works of J.L. Gerome in One Hundred Photogravures. Multiple Volumes. New York: Samuel L Hall, 1881

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Art & Architecture


SURELY the serpent will bite, without enchantment," sayeth the preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem ; and this ancient Mystery of the East has never been better represented than in the present admirable painting, in which the artist's technical figure-study is supplemented by a long Arabic wall and a group of more distant spectators worthy of any scene of magic whatsoever.

The great python (for which the painter's studies, made in the Jardin des Plantes, are said to be unusually fine) suffers himself to be twined around the naked, shining body of a boy, and his idle and menacing head is lifted aloft, while the ceaseless sibillation of the oldman's pipe fills the air and charms his sluggish senses. It is a tremendous garment which the stripling wears ; and his smooth, slim, adolescent grace is taxed as a support to the writhing splendor of the snake. The highest type is thus within the grasp of the lowest, and dominating it. Life plays with Death, and Beauty acknowledges both of them. The fluting old graybeard is a miracle of emaciation, and there is an uneasiness and intentness in his aspect which would seem to indicate that his pipings were not the idle ones of peace and of dancing. Possibly if he intermits it only for a moment, or changes the measure of his "enchantment," the terrible, splendid folds

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