Antonio Masutti was a Friulian artist who was born near Pordenone, he worked as a draughtsman, lithographer, portraitist, miniaturist, caricaturist and illustrator. He studied at the Fine Arts Academy in Venice and was granted a residency in Rome and in 1849 moved to Turin where he seems to have remained for the rest of his life. This work is technically close to a number of drawings by the artist, also in graphite, which are in the British Museum and date to 1849, and were drawn for the satirical journal Il Don Pirlone.
The drawing here depicts the moment when the Israelites, discontented with their life in the desert, spoke out against God and Moses. They were punished with a plague of poisonous snakes which only increased their hardships (Numbers 21: 4-9). Many died of snakebites, and when the people repented, Moses sought Gods advice how they should be rid of the snakes. He told them to make an image of one and set it up on a pole. Whoever was bitten would be cured when he looked upon the image. Moses accordingly made a serpent of bronze on a tau-shaped (T) pole, which proved to have a miraculous effect. The Israelites are depicted writhing on the ground, their limbs entwined by snakes. Moses, sometimes with Aaron, stands beside the brazen serpent.