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Adam and Eve

God settled man in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and take care of it. But God thought that it was not right for man to be alone, without helper. So from the soil he fashioned all the wild animals and all the birds of heaven. He brought these to the man and each one was to bear the name the man would give it. All the cattle, birds and wild animals were named but there was no suitable helper to be found for the man. So, God made the man fall into a deep sleep. While the man was asleep God took one of his ribs and closed the man’s flesh up again. God fashioned the rib he had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to man. Man and woman were naked, but they felt no shame before each other.

Many artists made paintings on the theme of Adam and Eve. We show some of the most remarkable pictures. And we start with paintings of one of the greatest geniuses, pictures of Michelangelo.

The Creation. The Creation of Adam

Michelangelo Buonarroti. Cappella Sistina, Palazzo del Vaticano - Rome. 1508-1512.

The Vatican holds the greatest marvels in art. There is no equal on earth to the architectural complex formed by the Cathedral of Saint Peter, the Sistine Chapel and the Papal Apartments. Add to that the Pinacoteca, the Vatican Museum with the Belvedere and the Gallery of Statues and one has the most impressive collection of art of the western world. More astonishing is that the three main parts of the Vatican were constructed and have been given their contemporary aspect almost in the same period of the sixteenth century. Bramante and Antonio Sangallo were the major architects of the cathedral. The Sistine Chapel had already paintings of Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Cosimo Rosselli, Perugino, and Luca Signorelli. Fra Angelico and Pinturicchio painted some Papal rooms before Raphael. Michelangelo also painted in the Pauline Chapel. The whole is really unsurpassed in beauty, power, symbolism and radiance. Two genius painters worked in the Vatican at the same time: Michelangelo and Raphael were both at times architects of Saint Peter and painters of the Vatican. Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; Raphael painted the rooms of the Papal apartments. Of course, such enormous works of art surpassed even them and many others worked in the Vatican, with names that are all synonyms of genius.

All the artists worked in the mystical obedience of their faith to serve Roman Catholicism. The men that had the vision of the whole were of the Rovere family. These men were first Francesco della Rovere, Pope Sixtus IV, and then his nephew Giuliano della Rovere, Pope Julius II. Julius II was a very realistic and pragmatic man but he also had an obsession. He wanted Roman Catholicism to be the major force on earth. He not only wanted that, he knew that had to be, and if necessary by arms. It was ordained. The Pope was given the keys to the Kingdom, so he had the responsibility to bring the heavenly kingdom to all. This could only be realised by making the Papal States in Italy stronger than before. And by drawing the whole world to Rome to wonder at the marvels of the Seat of Saint Peter. Julius had the drive and the money. Italy has never engendered so many geniuses to serve the dream as while Julius II lived. So, the Pope employed the money and the geniuses to push the representation of the Divine as far as is humanly possible. He was a proud and strong man who could do it all unwaveringly. Julius II did not doubt the justification of his vision.

Michelangelo painted the Sistine ceiling on demand of Pope Julius II, whom he had known from before as Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere. Julius II was 30 years older than Michelangelo. Michelangelo himself was 33 years old when he started to paint. He found it a daunting task. The Sistine ceiling was ugly and high. Michelangelo tried to avoid the demand of the Pope by stating that he was a sculptor and not a painter, but Julius was not a man to take no for an answer. Michelangelo had not painted since a long time. He was essentially a fresco painter. He had the learned technique in Florence from Domenico Ghirlandaio and he mastered it. But fresco painting was a slow process. The ceiling was an enormous surface, high and ugly with many odd surfaces in uncommon angles. Michelangelo started working on the Sistine ceiling with helpers, but soon sent them away and worked alone on a scaffold that would make no holes in the walls, and that was also his own design. He worked from 1508 to 1512.

Michelangelo was painting at the same time as other artists in the Vatican. Raphael Sanzio was painting in the Stanza, the rooms of Julius II’s apartments. These were also masterpieces, such as the School of Athens. The Pope wanted a new Saint Peter’s cathedral. A competition was opened for the design and both Giuliano da Sangallo and Bramante, the most influential architects of their times participated in the contest. Although da Sangallo was the Medici architect, Bramante won. While Michelangelo painted the Sistine ceiling, he heard Bramante’s teams tearing at the walls of the previous old Saint Peter cathedral and building new piers.

While these genius artists transformed the Vatican, the Pope was at war. Julius II saw it as one of his main tasks to enforce the Papal States in Italy. He first made an alliance with France and the German Emperor against Venice. Once Venice subdued, he became afraid of the growing power of France in Italy. He made a new alliance with Venice and Spain against France. During the painting of the Sistine ceiling, Julius waged war against the French in Northern Italy at the head of his fifteen thousand Swiss mercenaries. His hireling soldiers at times abandoned him because he couldn’t pay them anymore. The Swiss would come back however and turn his luck. Mostly the Pope lost battles, such as the one at Ravenna, but in the losing he advanced.

Julius II also fought the Republic of Florence, the beloved hometown Michelangelo. The Tuscan Republic had not so much supported the French as grasped the opportunity of the struggles to be more independent. This ended the Republic of Florence. Its wise Gonfaloniere, Piero Soderini of the Signoria, had to resign so that the Medici family, who sided with the Pope, would again rule the city. The French abandoned Italy. Julius II died a few months after the inauguration of the Sistine ceiling. The next Pope would be the same Medici that had stood at his side in the wars against Florence. Giovanni de Medici became Pope Leo X. Under the first Medici Pope the work of the splendours of the della Rovere Popes would be continued.

When Michelangelo first entered the Sistine Chapel, he saw already half the wonders of Florentine painting. The long rectangular room’s walls were painted from higher than a man’s height to where the windows started by magnificent, large scenes. The scenes ran like a frieze all along the walls. There were scenes from the life of Moses, painted by Perugino, Pinturicchio, Cosimo Rosselli, Luca Signorelli and Piero di Cosimo. There were scenes from the life of Jesus Christ by the same fresco painters, and by Domenico Ghirlandaio. There was a Last Meal by Cosimo Rosselli. Pope Sixtus IV had ordered these paintings as a pictorial program to the justification of Papal authority. The scenes from the lives of Moses and of Christ had been painted from 1481 to 1483. Michelangelo knew most of the painters; he had met some of them in Florence. Ghirlandaio had been the master from whom he had learned fresco painting itself. The paintings obviously showed in all their majesty the foundation of the power of the Popes. This justification was necessary in view of the growing Protestant contention of the position of the Papacy.

Michelangelo started working on the ceiling by painting in ‘a fresco’. He would start by making cartons on light paper. These then were held against the ceiling and helpers would puncture the paper along the lines of the drawing and bring black contours on the surface. With the outlines of the drawing ready on the ceiling, the cinobiae, the real painting in colours could begin. This meant that Michelangelo had first to bring a layer of lime on the wall, but not on a larger surface than he could paint on in the time that he wanted to work. The colours were painted on the lime. They dried with and in the lime. Once the lime plastered on the wall, it had to be painted on before it dried. Painting over a previously painted zone was impossible. It had to be right the first time. In order to paint changing tones, Michelangelo would have to paint strokes of different shades next to each other. Essentially, each covered surface was in one colour tone only. This was the centuries old art of fresco painting, fresco meaning wet. It was painstaking, but the colours were marvellous after the lime had dried and would not disappear for centuries. It was the way of painting that Michelangelo had learned when at fourteen he had entered the workplace of Domenico Ghirlandaio.

Michelangelo would have to make use of the structures that supported the roof. He did not have just a flat surface, but he would have to paint between and on the protruding supports of the ceiling. He would have to paint the whole length of the ceiling, about 520 square meters.

The subject could only be Genesis, the creation of all things living and not living. God was the beginning of everything; Roman Catholicism had in the creation its start and its continuation. Much later, more than twenty-five years later, Michelangelo would finish the idea by painting the Last Judgement, the end of the world, in the same Chapel.

The central flat surface of the Sistine ceiling contains nine scenes, which represent the Genesis, the creation. The scenes start at the far end, above the altar of the Chapel with the ‘Separation of Light and Darkness’ (1). From there on, the scenes are: the 'Creation of the Stars and the Planets' (2), the 'Separation of Earth and Water '(3), the 'Creation of Adam' (4), the 'Creation of Eve' (5), the 'Original Sin' and the 'Expulsion out of Paradise '(6), 'Noah’s Sacrifice' (7), the 'Universal Deluge' (8) and finally 'Noah’s Drunkenness' (9). The middle painting is thus the’ Original Sin’ and the ‘Expulsion out of Paradise’, which reminds us of our mortality and transitoriness. Among these scenes there are full, large scenes that alternate with smaller ones which are held by large nudes and medallions. The large scenes are 2, 4, 6 and 8: the ‘Creation of the Stars’, the ‘Creation of Adam’, the ‘Original Sin’ and the Deluge. These are probably the most important ones for Michelangelo, the ones he wanted the devote invitees of the Popes, the privileged who were allowed to assist the High Masses of the Pope in person, the ambassadors, emperor, princes and kings, to remember.

Michelangelo knew that the wall frescoes already tried to establish the credibility of the Popes as inheritors of the Kingdom installed by God. He continued this idea by filling in the space between the walls and the central scenes with prophets and Sibyls. In front of the first scene he painted the prophet Jonas, on the other end the prophet Zachary. On the right side of Jonas started the Lybian Sibyl, and then came the prophet Daniel, the Cumaean Sibyl, the prophet Isaiah, and the Delphic Sibyl. On the left side of Jonas started scenes with the prophet Jeremiah, the Persian Sibyl, the prophet Ezechiel, the Erythreian Sibyl and the prophet Joel. So, each prophet has on the opposite side a Sibyl. There are five Sibyls and 5 prophets along the walls, but two supplementary prophets are at the ends. Next to the prophet Zachary, there are two scenes made possible by somewhat larger surfaces between the supporting structures of the roof: David and Goliath on one side, Judith and Holophernes on the other side. Next to Jonas are similar surfaces, the ‘Punishment of Aman’ and the scene of the Brazen Serpent. Between the prophets and Sibyls there are smaller scenes of precursors of Christ like the family of Ozias, the parents of King Jesse, many others.

Why the Sibyls, pagan symbols in a Catholic chapel? The Sibyls were women who prophesied while in ecstasy. So, just like the prophets they were announcers of wonders to come. In the Middle Ages, the Church adopted their sayings as foretelling the story of Christ. The ‘Golden Legend’ narrated of strange events that had happened during Jesus’ birth and that had been prophesied by the Sibyls. In Rome, a fountain of water turned to oil and burst into the Tiber. A Sibyl had foretold that when a fountain of oil sprang from the ground, a Saviour would be born. The Sibyls had also shown to Emperor Octavian a most beautiful virgin that appeared in a golden circle around the sun. The virgin held a child in her lap. The Sibyls said that this child was greater than the emperor was and that Octavian should worship it. The Sibyls were thus considered ancient Roman counterparts of the Hebrew prophets.

Michelangelo emphasised with the Sibyls the link between pre-testament times and the Christian era. There are twelve Sibyls, of which Michelangelo represents five. These five Sibyls are also the best known. They were named after their places of origin. Michelangelo painted the Sibyls of Delphi, of Cumae, of Persia, of Erythraea and the Sibyl of Libya. The Sibyls are not shown with their usual symbols, which would be a crown of thorns for Delphi, a shell-like bowl for the Cumaean Sibyl, a lantern and serpent for the Persian, a lily for the Erythraean Sibyl and a candle or torch for the Libyan SibylG41. Each Sibyl holds a book or a scroll. These would be the Sibylline books, in which the proverbs and sayings of the Sibyls were recorded. A Roman, Tarquinius Superbus allegedly bought the Sibylline books from the last Sibyl, and then guarded by a college of priests that could only open the books on special order of the Senate of Rome. The original books were burned in 83 BC, but reconstituted afterwards from Asian sources. The prophets also hold books or scrolls, referring to the Old Testament. Both the Sibylline books and the Bible underscore that the coming of the Kingdom was written, announced, prophesied. These figures continued the iconographic program of the walls of the chapel.

The first three scenes of the Genesis show God the Father. He is always clothed, and so are the figures of the prophets and the Sibyls. In the following scenes however, Michelangelo painted common men and women. All are naked. Many other nudes support each scene of the Genesis. Thus, for Michelangelo humankind was humbled in its nudity compared to the God and the prophets.

Michelangelo was a sculptor. He was obsessed by the structure of man. He would first draw a naked man and then paint clothes around and on the figure. He looked in the first place for power and movement in man. He liked tended, large, hard muscles. Men’s legs are always forceful, his hands large. Michelangelo’s sculptures are awesome in force. By looking at the hands of Michelangelo’s sculptures, such as the hands of the David, one can get sick of the impression of weight and force conveyed by the very realist power of expression of the artist.

Michelangelo painted as he sculpted, with the same preferences for the epic, the grandiose. The epic was always overwhelmingly expressed in man. Michelangelo seldom sculptured women. Women’s figures were too soft, too delicate for him. Women were not the conquerors and shapers of civilisation. The women of the Sistine ceiling are definitely not gracious. Look at the Sibyls. Not one of them is painted slender or vulnerable. Look also at the scene of the ‘Original Sin’. Eve is as strongly muscled as Adam is. She is not gracious but squat and built as a man. In the ‘Exclusion from Paradise’, Eve is small and thick, ugly.

So, in the ‘Creation of Adam’, man is naked and God the Father clothed. But the clothing is a transparent silk by which we can perceive the force of God. God has a white beard and white flowing hair, the symbols of wisdom. Both God and Adam are painted in long, but God is seen in the full action of creation whereby Adam is resting on one arm, relaxed. Children, putti, or angels surround God. God’s cloak is white so that his figure stands out against the putti. The children, the angels, seem not so much to support him as to want to withhold him. They seem to be tearing at God, pulling him back. But notwithstanding these forces, God reaches out and touches man. Adam is lovingly posed, in all the splendour of a Michelangelo young male nude. God and Adam look into each other’s eyes.

Michelangelo was both an artist who found in the mysticism of his Christian faith his inspiration and consolation. At the same time, however he was a very realistic, rational thinker, a true Florentine. He could sculpt a statue born out of one genial idea, like his David or Moses, and then work for a very long time at that, chipping away stones piece by piece for years like a common artisan. He was also an engineer, who would build defence walls for Florence under general Malatesta against the army of Pope Clement VII. This mixture of mysticism and rationalism can be found back in the’ Creation of Adam’.

The rationality is in the form and composition of the scene. The figures are well drawn, as fresco would allow, well delineated, in natural fluent poses. The whole is restive, a nice and warm painting, easy to look at. The painting is simply one scene among others of the Genesis, the birth of the universe. The scene is one normally to be expected as the creation of the first man. Adam is rising up out of the clay that God has just been touching. There is a long line between the outstretched arms of Adam and God, in harmony with the length of the bodies and the length of the rectangular frame of the painting. The iconography is striking so that the people who would come to the Sistine Chapel could imagine the creation and keep that picture in their minds for long.

The mysticism is in the ideas and feelings that are conveyed. A multitude of emotions is induced in the viewer of the scene.

Man is touched by God and man touches God. This is how we feel when we are all alone in front of a wonderful nature landscape. We are alone at dawn. A veil of mist is hanging over the land. There are shadows of forests far away. We look over meadows. Everything is silent. When we feel thus unified with nature and the universe, we feel we touch God. The universe comes close to us. In us, we feel to be part of the cosmos and at the same time this universe comes so close to us that we have a sense of possession of it. We look into the eyes of God.

The ‘Creation of Adam’ is a representation of love. It is the best image of pure love we know. Loving means being glued, linked to somebody, and not knowing why. One sees a person among many others and feels attracted to him or her. One looks closer, and then comes nearer. One feels interested and captured. It is as if one is touching, wants to touch, and knows that once one has touched one will be stuck and unable to withdraw. If one is married and the other person is not one’s spouse, just before the moment of touching is still the moment one can withdraw. But don’t touch or you will be linked inexorably and lost. You will be committed and you will seek the other person out, maybe in an obsessive way. This is the moment captured by Michelangelo. Has God really touched man, is he going to touch him or has he already touched and has he pulled away? Man does not seem afraid of the touching and willing to reach for God. But God seems afraid of the consequences of embracing man. His angels feel the same; they are drawing at God. This is an image of the ‘Noli me Tangere’ theme, the words that Jesus said to Mary Magdalene after his Resurrection; Do not touch me lest I be forced to stay. Do not touch me lest I would love you. There is no better, poignant image of love in European painting than the ‘Creation of Adam’. God would want to touch Adam and love him, but knows that it cannot be and withdraws. And Michelangelo used images of men.

The ‘Creation of Adam’ remains an eternal image of unfulfilledness, of insufficiency, inadequacy and imperfection. God and man do not touch, cannot touch. Here is a search for perfection unfulfilled, the search of the artist for the perfect painting. The most perfect sculpture remains an illusion. The search of the Popes for the Kingdom of Heavens on earth will never be realised. Nothing is perfect; all is perishable. Man is never really touched by God and thus has not his entire resplendent nature. This is the sadness of the picture. Man is not perfect and cannot be perfect. He can reach out, but will never really be able to grasp, to touch the universe.

Michelangelo has brought in the paintings of the Sistine Chapel most of what he believed in, all the things that puzzle a man during his life and that he cannot fully understand or that he thinks he understands. This is the philosophy of Michelangelo. His beliefs were strong and honest, not hypocrite. He showed them to the visitors of the Sistine Chapel. He had the strength to open up and show them, he was not afraid and he must have had very much confidence in himself. Because people to whom one shows one’s emotions in this way may hurt one’s character. Michelangelo hid this maybe in the monumentous. There are so many strong powerful nudes supporting the central scenes, that the general impression is not one of quiet, inner thoughts, but of exuberance and grandness. The weight of the powerful frescoes is so overwhelming that the inner emotions of Michelangelo are perceived as universal truths.

Michelangelo Buonarroti was born in Florence in 1475. He died in Rome in 1564, almost ninety years old. His life covers many generations of painters, sculptors, architects, poets and humanists. He knew them all, met them in Florence, Bologna, and Rome. He spoke and argued with them, an endless list. He knew the painters Filippino Lippi, Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Cosimo Rosselli, Pietro Perugino, the young Raphael Sanzio, Piero di Cosimo, Lorenzo di Credi, Francesco Granacci, Andrea del Sarto and Sebastiano del Piombo. He was a pupil to the sculptor Bertoldo who himself had learned the art from the great Donatello. Other sculptors he knew were Baccio Baldinelli and Benvenuto Cellini. He met and exchanged ideas with the architects Giuliano da Sangallo, Andrea Sansovino, Antonio da Sangallo, Bramante, and Jacopo Sansovino. Giorgio Vasari worked a short time in his workshop. The poet Ariosto who wrote Orlando Furioso was his contemporary. So were Titian and the great Venetian artists Tintoretto, Veronese and Palma. Michelangelo remained very individual, a loner in art. He was first a sculptor and painted as he sculpted. He looked for a simple but profound idea and then developed much work as an artisan. Michelangelo’s ideas were splendid however. They were true and honest, grown out of his own private genius and out of his own inner life. He had absolute confidence in his own craft and intelligence. He expressed spirituality in marble.

Michelangelo knew and worked for at least ten Popes, among the foremost Giuliano della Rovere, Pope Julius II, but also Giovanni de Medici as Clement VII and Alessandro Farnese as Paul IV. He is indelibly linked with the triumph of the message of Christian Catholic faith of the sixteenth century. The Popes needed images and powerful iconography to tell the splendour of God’s works. Michelangelo, in a time without any other form of imagery, provided them just that in the most clear, direct and imposing way. He became the architect of Saint Peter at the end of his years, from 1546 on. He designed the cupola of the basilica, but the construction was finished after his death. He loved Florence dearly, whether it was ruled by the Signoria in the republic under the Gonfalonieres Soderini and Capponi or under the Medici. He built defences for Florence when the city was attacked. He knew Lorenzo Il Magnifico when he was young and from then on his life was always connected with the Medici. Three Popes he knew had the name Medici: Leo X, Clement VII and Pius IV.

Michelangelo’s most famous sculpture is the David, that can be found today in the Museum of the Academy of Florence and of which a copy still stands in the Piazza della Signoria, the marketplace of Florence. This sculpture is the symbol of Florence. He sculpted the Pietà in the Saint Peter cathedral. He painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the Pauline Chapel and finally the ‘Last Judgement’ of the Sistine Chapel. He also wrote sonnets and poems, some of which were love poems to Vittoria Colonna, the Marchese de Pescara.

Michelangelo appears to us as a tower of a man, an all-genius artist, architect and engineer such as the world has not seen after him. He was a man who could do everything, a shaper of civilisation. He was impregnated with the spirituality of Roman Catholic religion, but he added a new dimension: the power of man, and the confidence, the triumph of man’s deeds.

Adam and Eve

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553). The Courtauld Institute Galleries - London. Ca.1526.

The Italian Renaissance had started around 1400 in Italy, even though the first pictures of its sparkle came a quarter of a century later. From Italy the new ideas moved northward. Thus it reached Germany earlier than Flanders, Brabant and Holland maybe because the Gothic tradition was stronger and more brilliant in these last regions. Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) and Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) were contemporaries. Dürer was totally open to international ideas in art and philosophy. He was a traveller. He went twice to Italy to study art and confer with Italian artists. He also went to Flanders and Holland. His style was courteous, refined, complex and delicate. But he was also a passionate man and a man who doubted and was uncertain of himself at times. His terrible engravings of the Apocalypse prove this. Dürer was the intellectual of the two. Lucas Cranach the Elder was more linked to his region. Cranach never travelled to Italy. He was rooted in popular German art, German character and morals. He perpetuated the spirit of the German soil. He knew the splendour of the Renaissance. He painted mythological scenes, especially his sensual Venuses. He knew the Renaissance’s glorification of the human body but he did not want to leave the tradition of old to seemingly naively paint stylised images. He made a gradual transition to Renaissance, whereas Dürer jumped without neither bonds nor complexes nor restraint immediately into the new vision.

Lucas Cranach the Elder painted an ‘Adam and Eve’ around 1526, after an etching of Dürer U4 . Cranach used Dürer’s poises in several pictures. We notice the grace of Dürer, and his freedom in composition as compared to earlier Gothic, as well as Cranach’s links with traditional German representation clearly in this picture. In Cranach’s picture man and woman are indeed the focus of attention and landscape is still in the background, as one would expect of Renaissance and Gothic painters. Adam and Eve are pictured in attitudes that explain the scene of the Bible. Eve is still grasping a branch of the Tree of Knowledge and in a gesture further in time hands over the apple to Adam. Her poise is coquettish and her long legs show some of the sensuality of the spectator-artist Cranach. Yet, her forms remain spiritualised in a restraint that is respectful as necessary for a religious scene. Eve’ forms are barely accentuated by shadows; her body is the pale colour of a fleshless symbol. Cranach showed more distance than the bold Dürer. Adam accepts the apple but he scratches his head in doubt. He is not sure whether he should accept the apple and also give in to the temptation of the sensuous, sinuous snake above. This serpent has the colour of deceit: it is as green as the tree so as to blend in its environment, but it has a gold gleam of success. The serpent’s head is definitely directed at Eve.

Around the first couple all the animals are still in peace with each other because the apple of the Original Sin has not yet been eaten. The animals seem to await the disaster that will disturb their harmony. They all stand still, as if frozen in expectation and intuition of something important that is going to happen. Lion and deer glance sadly at the viewer and confront him directly with the fearful expectation of the act that will kill. Cranach needed to add a small pond to be able to picture in water birds. The drinking of the pond is like the eating of the apple and eating and drinking are the two activities of sustenation of living. Behind Eve, in the far, a white horse is galloping out of the forest. The horse is white and could be the unicorn of the legends, an emblem of purity. The horse is the only animal that is in motion and it tries to leave Eden, because the Fall is being prepared.

The result of sin will be the multiplication of man, necessary to perpetrate the sin and necessary to continue man since Adam and Eve will become mortal creatures. Cranach represents this symbolically by growing the ranks of a vine to both the sexual parts of Adam and Eve. From these blooms the fruit, the grapes. The woods of the deer beneath Adam support Adam’s sex and the spikes of the horns are a reference to the pain that will be induced by the Fall. Such immediate reference to sexuality was unusual for refined painters, but Cranach did this also in other pictures such as in his Saint Sebastian. Cranach hereby remained closer to earth, to popular images instead of to the refinement of intellectual art.

Remarkable in this picture is not just the narrative, the various gestures of Adam and Eve that tell a story in static poises. Gothic is turning into Renaissance in this picture. Gothic’s static becomes movement. The emphasis on symbols and references is still medieval, but the figures of Adam and Eve are new in that Eve is really alluring. But her image remains stylised. So are the bushes behind the couple that form a screen behind their scene. All leaves are equally large; all apples are identical. Only after sin will there be decay and still more variety in nature. Such depiction may be considered naïve and indeed, naïve artists of the nineteenth century used the same representation as Cranach did. We need to understand that we have here a master as accomplished as Albrecht Dürer at work. But Cranach deliberately stayed with a very personal vision, in symbiosis with his common fellow men of the small towns of Germany. It is a very Protestant and German reaction to refuse the splendours of the Renaissance. Lucas Cranach was a friend of Martin Luther and made an altarpiece for the Wittenberg chapel where Luther preached. He also painted several portraits of Luther and his wife. Lucas Cranach worked in Wittenberg, as he had been invited there from Nuremberg by Frederick the Wise, the Prince-Elector of Sachsen. He had a workshop in Wittenberg and was elected three times mayor of the town.

Lucas Cranach painted Adam and Eve in the nude. So did Dürer before him, as well as Mariotto Albertinelli in an oil painting that is equally in the Courtauld Institute of London. Dürer’s etchings had reached Italy rapidly. Jan Van Eyck had painted Adam and Eve as explicitly naked even earlier. The nakedness would shock generations later, but the early days of the sixteenth century was still the time before the Council of Trent and pictures of Adam and Eve nude were not unusual. After all, the Bible noted explicitly that Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed. That was before the Fall, as in Cranach’s picture. The clergy could hardly protest against a scene that had a sound theological basis. Puritanism set in later. The Fall had a special meaning for Luther and the Protestants. It underscored the frailness of humanity and original sin and illustrated some of the pessimism of the Protestants. The Renaissance had glorified man, built imposing monuments on majestic antique non-Christian examples. The Roman Catholic Church all too eagerly liked pomp and outward magnificence to show the power of its clergy more than the modesty of Christ. The Protestants would remark that man had to pray and be humble again. If the Renaissance tried to reach the skies, the German Protestants pointed at the reality of a hard life that was often miserable in feudal Germany. Cranach made several versions of the Fall, which became one of the preferred themes of the German Protestants.

Adam and Eve

Vladimir Baranoff-Rossiné (1888 – 1942). Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza – Madrid. 1912.

The theme of Adam and Eve, representations of the first men but also types of all mankind, inspired artists of later than the early centuries of oil painting and other artists than of Western Europe. Vladimir Baranoff-Rossiné was born in the Ukraine, in the town of Kherson. He studied painting in Odessa and in Saint Petersburg. He moved in the group of Russian avant-garde artists where he met Larionov and Natalia Gontcharova among others. In 1910 Baranoff-Rossiné left Russia for Paris and tied friendships with the Parisian society of Russian émigrés but also with Hans Arp and Robert and Sonia Delaunay. From this period dates his ‘Adam and Eve’ in which the influence of the aforementioned artists can be felt in the strong, heavy colours and the encircling dynamism. Baranoff-Rossiné also sculpted and tended to a unity in the various arts of painting, sculpture, poetry and music. He combined these arts in stage performances. During the First World War he hid in Norway. He returned to Russia, now a communist nation in the growing, already in 1917. He met Marc Chagall and other Russian innovators of painting. In his later years Baranoff-Rossiné came back to Paris and he died there in 1942, in the middle of a new World War. Until his death he continued to experiment with colours.

Vladimir Baranoff-Rossiné’s ‘Adam and Eve’ is all colours. His painting strikes with its embedded, concentric circles between which colours and subjects are trapped. The obsession of whirling circular movements that engulfed all subject matter was a characteristic of a style of painting of the beginning of the twentieth century called Orphism. The main artists who left the representation of figurative subjects for these circling colours were Frantisek Kupka and Robert and Sonia Delaunay, who all worked in Paris. Baranoff-Rossiné’s ‘Adam and Eve’ can thus also be called an Orphist picture, even though the Orphists tended to complete abstraction whereas Baranoff-Rossiné remains mainly figurative in his painting.

For Baranoff-Rossiné the sun is the creator of life. Its warm and red light is central. It does not send out rays but life is created in concentric circles. All life is generated from the sun’s vortex, plants, animals and man and that sun is red as blood, the essence of life in creatures with a mind. There is not much difference between the species. Adam and Eve are simply part of the created universe as just one more manifestation and not much distinguishes them from the rest of Eden. The earth still is an Eden, where the animals are at peace. In the middle of the frame Baranoff-Rossiné painted a lake and animals that are at peace together, a lion and a pelican. These are all Christian symbols used in pictures of Saint Jerome and associated with Christ. They are brought together in a naturalistic vision of the creation.

Man as Adam stands to the right. He holds a flower of peace. He is light, a muscled Adonis and almost floats in the air, caught in the circles. Below him comes a dog, a symbol of loyalty. Eve lies down in an alluring, coquettish, seductive poise. She has very broad hips and full round breasts, the traditional signs of her seductive power. But she lies quiet in the scene, unaware of her force. Adam is standing, Eve lies down. We take these poises for granted. There are many pictures for instance of Venus and Adonis or of the nymphs, in which women are lying down and men stand up. Wassily Kandinsky remarked that horizontal lines indicate the restful female element, vertical lines the active male. Adam stands up to guard, to defend and he is ready to depart. Baranoff-Rossiné - maybe unconsciously - used these qualities of line and its universal symbols. Even more than man the sun’s circles have shaped Eve. For Kandinsky circles were concentrating symbols, symbols of inner life, of inward movement, of feelings. Woman feels more profoundly, more subtly than man does. Her symbol is the peacock, whose colours are the same as the plants, trees and flowers of paradise. Adam and Eve both follow the rhythm of the lines and colours of the creation. These lines and colours penetrate the figures, emphasising the mystic symbiosis between man and nature.

Adam and Eve remain for Baranoff-Rossiné a man and woman that respond strangely to the classic Greek and Roman ideal. Adam especially is drawn according to the images reminiscent of the ancient classic sculptures. He is slender, noble, strong and young with the curls of hair around his head as Adonis was sculpted in Roman times. Baranoff-Rossiné was a sculptor also and he had the strong classic examples very tenaciously in his mind. Eve however is entirely different. She is the Ur-mother, Ur-woman, whose functions of fertility are obvious. Baranoff-Rossiné combined old and new images as he combined the Christian symbols of Adam and Eve with new interpretations of the creation as he emphasised the sun. In this way his picture can be seen as one more example of the search of artists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century to new truths about mankind and the mystery of life. No rational reason for the existence of man can be found however so that the essence of the picture is the mystic symbiosis of man and nature, Adam and Eve and Eden. Baranoff-Rossiné with this picture expressed his ideas of a mystic union of mankind and nature in the circles of the vortex of life. This was a very symbolist and spiritual vision even if it was not directly Christian, in line with the spiritual emphasis of the beginning of the twentieth century.

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