With the exception of Antarctica, the ubiquitous snake is practically found on every continent, whether in rainforests, deserts or mountains. Worldwide, there are more than 3,000 species with some growing more than nine metres long (30 feet) and others able to live for more than two decades. However, the serpent as a symbol in human culture has existed since the dawn of mankind. Perhaps the most well-known story of the snake is found in the Bible’s Book of Genesis where it is used by Satan to trick Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Serpents abound in religions as well as in myths and legends. It may represent either good or evil, depending on one’s belief. Snakes can be symbols representing creation and destruction, life and death, and fertility. The ability to shed its skin as it grows led people to associate snakes with transformation, rebirth, immortality and even healing. Speaking of which, the caduceus, comprising two snakes coiled around a staff and surmounted with wings is used as a medical symbol.
Greek astronomer Ptolemy first catalogued the Serpens constellation during the second century. Serpens, the Latin word for serpent, is one of the Greek constellations found in the Northern hemisphere.
Serpent artefacts discovered from the second century A.D. include the statue of Osiris Chronorator with a serpent coiled around it and even the tomb guardian deity unearthed in Sichuan, China that is holding snakes.
A young Hercules, the Greek mythological hero who was the son of Zeus, is immortalised in a marble sculpture, estimated to be from the late second- to third-century A.D. depicts him strangling snakes. These two are among some of the artefacts currently on display at Singapore’s ArtScience Museum. Located at Marina Bay Sands, there are many interesting historical, cultural and artistic displays that are part of Bulgari’s SerpentiForm exhibition that began on 19 August 2017 and will run till 15 October 2017.
First held at the Museo di Roma, Palazzo Braschi in Rome, Italy from March to May 2016, the current SerpentiForm exhibition at ArtScience Museum is held on a much larger scale as it occupies the space in all ten petals of this iconic lotus-inspired building that is also called the “Welcoming hand of Singapore” by the Chairman of Las Vegas Sands, Sidney Sheldon. The ArtScience Museum building, designed by Moshe Safdie, is itself a sight to behold.
At the SerpentiForm exhibition, one will not miss the 70-metre visual installation that features 500 video-mapped scales and floating Serpenti creations “slithering” along the museum’s walls. For us, this is merely a nice modern distraction; the key attractions are the artefacts, artwork and historical Bulgari Serpenti watches exhibited. The exhibition was curated by Lucia Boscaini, Bulgari Brand and Heritage Curator.
At the antiquities section, we were fascinated by the artistry of ancient civilisations, as evidenced in the form of a silver bracelet from Macedony and made during the 5th century B.C.
Bracelet in silver from Macedony, 5th century BC © Musei Reali di Torino - Galleria Sabauda
Modern and contemporary artworks on display at the exhibition include the not-to-be-missed La Serpentine etching done by Joan Miro in 1978 and Keith Haring’s USA 19-82 lithograph from 1982.
Keith Haring, USA 19-82, 1982 © Haring Foundation
There is even a section on dresses depicting the snake. Highlights here include the robe used in the 1987 movie The Last Emperor directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and the costume worn by Jaye Davidson who played Ra in the 1994 sci-fi movie Stargate.
Costume designed by James Acherson for the film The last Emperor directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, 1987 © Costumi d’Arte Peruzzi, Roma
Of course, what is a Serpenti exhibition without the iconic Bulgari Serpenti wristwatches? It was during the 1940s that Bulgari began using the serpent as a symbol and inspiration for its watches. Flexible and coiled bracelets in gold were made to wrap around the wrist. Attached to the coiled bracelet was a snakehead that concealed the dial and watch movement.
Serpenti bracelet-watch in gold with green enamel, emerald and diamonds, 1969 © Bulgari Heritage Collection
Don’t be surprised to see brand names such as Vacheron Constantin and Jaeger-LeCoultre on the Serpenti dials too as movements from these brands were used. Also on display is the platinum Bulgari Serpenti necklace featuring chalcedony, rubies and diamonds made specially for this SerpentiForm exhibition.
Serpenti necklace in gold with polychrome enamel, sapphire, emeralds and diamonds, 1969 © Bulgari Heritage Collection
The SerpentiForm exhibition is well worth a visit for those curious about how snakes are viewed by different cultures. It isn’t an exhibition catered for female visitors. Rather, it is a well-paced cultural and historical immersion into the world of snakes and how humankind has interpreted and given meaning to this creature.
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