Seeing the Narrative of the Original Sin Through Paintings
According to the holy religions Adam and Eve, the first two human beings ever created, lived in the Garden of Eden for some time. But it’s not their time in Paradise we remember; it’s their fall and expulsion after committing the original sin doing the only thing God forbid them to do; eating the fruit out of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
The story of Adam and Eve is the story of humankind’s first evil deed and the cornerstone that determined their destiny. It cost the immortal life of Paradise and introduced them with shame and a lifelong sin to bear. It’s also the story art favored.
The most resplendent example of the creations of Adam and Eve rests on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, painted by Michelangelo between 1508-1512. (F.1-2) In two separate scenes, we see God giving life to Adam by touching him and then creating Eve from his rib. Then, Michelangelo proceeds with the Temptation and Expulsion given in the same scene, something rather unusual as the two are often depicted separately. The tree cuts the scene in half, the left of which shows the Temptation and the right, the Expulsion. (F.3)
On the left, Adam stands and reaches out to the three as Eve, laying down on the grass, receives the apple from the serpent with a human-like torso and a snake-like body. Unbeknownst what will happen next, they overconfidently disobey the only rule God had laid down. The aftermath is in the right; the angel of God pushes them out of Paradise. The angel puts his sword to Adam’s neck as they are forced to the righter edge of the scene in shame and pain.
Different Representations of the Story of Adam and Eve
Raphael, another Renaissance master, creates the same story in his own Sistine, the Raphael Rooms of the Vatican Palace. On the ceiling of the Room of the Signatura, in a scene framed with verdure with a gilded background, shows the moment Eve pulls the fruit off. Titian’s 1550 painting The Fall of Man shows Raphael’s influence, but here the Garden of Eden is somehow a denser place seemingly on the brink of chaos. Adam sits on a rock where one of his arms rests and stretches out to touch Eve’s breast. Eve grabs a bough with one hand and the apple with the other. The serpent-putto hybrid reaches out and grabs the same apple. The background of the painting, the busy sky, indicates that something vile is about to happen.
The northern master Albrecht Dürer tells the story in a completely different tone in his 1504 engraving. He takes us to a precariously darker, dense, and grim place –nothing like the Eden portrayed in the Old Testament. In this magnificently detailed composition, along with Adam and Eve standing like two ancient statues with perfect proportions and correlating body movements, several animals have deep symbolic meanings. Cat, rabbit, ox, elk, parrot, mouse, symbolizing lust, sensuality, apathy, melancholy, all of which Adam and Eve will meet for the first time. Dürer shows the moment they are about to fall to the Temptation; the moment their perfect bodies and untouched souls will become the exact opposite. They, hence, the human race will meet with something which will determine their living altogether: death.
Masaccio’s 1426 fresco painting in Brancacci shows what happens next dramatically. Here the angel chases Adam and Eve out of Eden. Both in visible pain, they cover their faces or private parts in shame. The slit-eyed Eve seems like she’s screaming in agony with her open mouth, and the door of the Garden of Eden is claustrophobically narrow as indicating that it’s now too hard to go back. They will have to wait for Christ to descend into hell and save them.
Brion, M., 1960. Dürer. New York: Tudor Pub. Co.Hall, M. ed., 2005. The Cambridge Companion to Raphael. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Graham-Dixon, A., 2016. Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel. New York, NY: Skyhorse Pub.The Holy Bible, 2001. New York: American Bible Society.
F.1. Michelangelo, The Creation of Adam, 1511, fresco, Sistine Chapel, Vatican.commons.wikimedia.org
F.2. Michelangelo, The Creation of Eve, 1510, fresco, Sistine Chapel, Vatican.www.wga.hu
F.3. Michelangelo, Temptation and Expulsion from Paradise, 1510, fresco, Sistine Chapel, Vatican.commons.wikimedia.org
F.4. Raphael, Adam and Eve, 1508-1511, fresco, Raphael Rooms, Palace of the Vatican.www.wikiart.org
F.5. Titian, The Fall of Man, 1550, oil on canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid,commons.wikimedia.org
F.6. Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve, 1504, copperplate engraving, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.www.wga.hu
F.7. Masaccio, The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, 1426, Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence.www.wga.hu