The model for The Angel with the Serpent was Evelyn de Morgan’s brother Percival Spencer Umfreville Pickering.
The model for The Angel with the Serpent was Evelyn de Morgan’s brother Percival Spencer Umfreville Pickering (born 6 March 1858 - died 1920). He was a student at Balliol in Oxford where he graduated with a 1st class Honours degree in Science in 1880 and lectured in chemistry at Bedford College from 1881 to 1888. In 1890 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society and worked as a director of the Woburn Experimental Fruit Farm. His interest in horticulture and science may account for the subject of an angel tenderly caressing an emerald-green snake surrounded by roses. The serpent here is not intended to symbolise maleficence or threat – it is a metaphor for the wild natural world tamed by man. Spencer Pickering had also modelled for a similar picture by his sister entitled Mercury (de Morgan Foundation) in which the story of the creation of the Caduceus, a wand comprising of two snakes entwined around a staff, was depicted. The painting is early in de Morgan’s oeuvre and probably dates to the early 1870s. In 1877 she painted Cadmus and Harmonia (de Morgan Foundation) depicting the nude Harmonia embracing a snake, illustrating the words ‘With lambent tongue he kissed her patient face, Crept in her bosom as his dwelling lace, Entwined her neck, and shared the loved embrace’ from Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’. It is possible that the present picture (the title of which is probably a later invention) may also depict an episode from the story of Cadmus.
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