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Figura serpentinata

This is an Italian phrase literally translated as serpentine figure. It is used to describe a human figure which spirals around a central axis, so that the lower limbs face in one direction and the torso almost in the opposite direction, in a graceful if sometimes contorted pose.

The development of this pose is attributed to Michelangelo in his statue of 'Victory', but an earlier example can be seen in the Gallery's 'Saint Catherine of Alexandria' by Raphael.

The pose is principally associated with Mannerist art, and examples in the collection can be seen in the figure of Deceit in Bronzino's 'An Allegory with Venus and Cupid' and Saint John in Parmigianino's 'Madonna and Child with Saints'.