St. Paul on Malta, ca. 1580
Joseph F. McCrindle collection, Morgan Library & Museum, 2009
This drawing is a study for one of a series of frescoes on the ceiling of the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche (Gallery of Maps) in the Vatican Palace, which was decorated ca. 1580 for Pope Gregory XIII. It represents a biblical episode said to have occurred on the island of Malta, where St. Paul was stranded after a shipwreck en route to Rome. While throwing sticks into a bonfire the saint was bitten by a snake. He shook the viper off into the fire and remained miraculously unharmed. The islanders took this as a sign of his divinity.