Ferrary's sculpture illustrates a notoriously erotic passage in Gustave Flaubert's 1862 novel 'Salammbo', set in 3rd-century BC Carthage in north Africa. The heroine Salammbo undresses and entwines herself with the python, symbol of the moon goddess Tanith. She does so in order to gain enough courage to steal back from the enemy barbarians the sacred veil that protected Carthage from defeat. She is about to take the snake's jaws into her own mouth, giving her body the sexual ecstasy and passion typical of much French 'Salon' sculpture of the late 19th century, which also appealed to many Victorian male viewers. Originally the scales of the serpent were gilded and Salammbo's body was covered with a lightly tinted wax varnish.
Lever probably bought 'Salammbo' along with Ferrary's 'Leda and the Swan', also in the Lady Lever's collection (LL206), from the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1900. The French sculptor Ferrary won a gold medal for his work. Once Lever had imported it into England he kept it at his Wirral country house, Thornton Manor, in the village of Thornton Hough.