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Capital letter N. Numbers 21

CAT 40 Capital letter N.  Numbers 21.  Taferelen.  BA 52.jpg

CAT 39. Capital letter N. Printed as the first letter of Tableau 6 (from Numbers 21) in Taferelen der voornaamste geschiedenissen van het Oude en Nieuwe Testament. The Hague: Pieter de Hondt, 1728, 1:131. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

Numbers 21: “[4] And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. [5] And the people spake against God and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. [6] And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. [7] Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. [8] And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.” [9] And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.”

Surrounding the letter N are writhing serpents, with the figure in the center trying to escape them as a woman and child watch from the tent. The curative serpent had not yet been set upon the pole. That latter event is the subject of Hoet’s full-page copperplate engraving—and of Saurin’s two-page commentary (in which the elevation of the curative serpent on the pole anticipates the raising of Christ on the cross). The Dutch text on the verso of Melville’s engraving includes both “slang” (serpent) and “kopere slang” (copper serpent). They are followed by “gebeten” (bitten). Father Saurin in the text for Tableau 6 presumably differed from Hoet in executing its accompanying copperplate engraving of the “kopere slang” by declaring that “copper is a dry, unclean, and stinking metal, liable to green and filthy rust, and resembling fiery serpents in its shiny and crimson paint.” Brass is an alloy of copper to which zinc or other elements have been added.