Sexual Fables
This article accompanies the fable
The Age of Consent

The Fall of Man in famous paintings

It’s called The Fall of Man but it's the snake’s fault and it’s Eve’s fault: “Her rash hand in evil hour…” Has there ever been a more popular subject in art history? The four paintings shown on the main page are by Michelangelo from the Sistine Chapel ceiling (between 1508-1512); Lucas Cranach the Elder, who was associated with Protestant reformers like Martin Luther (1526); Rubens, a Catholic, when he was only 20 (in 1597) and William Blake (c. 1808). Shown below is the Michelangelo only - click on it for higher resolution or here for additional comments.


It is Eve's role that continues to fascinate anyone interested in art history. Consider these three images of Eve, the left hand by van Eyck (between 1426 and 1432), the central by Albrecht Dürer (in 1507) and the right hand by Lucas Cranach the Elder (in 1528).

van Eyck Eve Albrecht Durer EveLucas Cranach Eve

Then compare them to this explicitly erotic vision by Hans Baldung Grien from 1511, where Adam doesn't seem that interested in the apple.


The explicit erotic content in Renaissance paintings, especially in Germany, suggests that Church teachings were already eroding and allowing sex without sin back into the interpretations of Genesis and Exodus. If Eden was the womb and the river out of Eden was the umbilical cord, and Exodus was the journey after leaving the womb, crossing the Red Sea, with its hint of blood, then it was hard to escape the idea that women were the life force itself, and that this was not sinful at all. More here.

Below is Rembrandt's sly take on the subject, an etching from 1638 which shows Adam grabbing the apple away from a chubby Eve. Notice the elephant? That is Hansken, a famous elephant of the time, whom Rembrandt sketched several times. This etching, one of several, is in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.


But it all ends here...

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