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The inscription paraphrases Genesis 3:15, where, after the Fall, God addresses the serpent. The Vulgate text reads ‘Inimicitias ponam inter te et mulierem, et semen tuum et semen illius: ipsa conteret caput tuum, et tu insidiaberis calcaneo ejus’. This is literally translated in the Douai Bible as (I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel). ‘Ipsa’, however, is a mistake for ‘ipsum’: it is not the woman, equated with Eve or the Virgin, but her seed, equated with Christ, who is to crush the serpent’s head. The Authorised Version gives a more accurate translation: (And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it [the seed of the woman] shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel). In paraphrasing the Vulgate, Gossart has corrected the text. He has made the reference to Christ absolutely specific and, transposing from the future to the perfect tense, he has made clear that Christ has already triumphed over the serpent. In the London painting, though not in the Vienna or Munich versions, the Child looks up towards the word SERPENTIS. Running and holding out his arms in a pose suggestive of crucifixion, he is hastening to save mankind. A similar inscription, in which Gossart seems to be representing gilded metal letters displayed against a stone moulding, is found in his half-length ‘Virgin and Child’ in Berlin.13

Further Sections

13. Friedländer, vol. VIII, no. 36; Ainsworth et al. 2010, pp. 168–70.