Saturday, January 25, 2014

THE SERPENT IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN

Lots of people have heard the story of the Garden of Eden and about how there was a nasty serpent there that tempted Eve to do a bad thing.  But just in case you don't know the story, I will remind you how it goes.  But Mom told me not to make any comments about whether I think the story is true or not because we do not want to start any arguments.  So I will just tell the story.


The Tree of Knowledge
Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530

It starts out with God making the earth and the sky and the oceans and the planets.  And then he makes all the plants and animals, and finally he makes humans.  The first two humans were named Adam and Eve.  God gave them a really nice place to live, which was called the Garden of Eden.  He told them they could eat any fruit that grew there except for fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  He said that if they ate that fruit, they would die.


Fall of Man
Mikael Toppelius, 1774

So Adam and Eve were innocent and happy, and everything was fine for a while.  But then one day, Eve got to talking to a serpent, and he said she wouldn't die if she ate the forbidden fruit.  Instead, she would be lots wiser.  So she decided to try the fruit, and she liked it, and she gave some to Adam to eat.  After which, they noticed that they were naked, which made them feel ashamed, so they sewed some clothes out of fig leaves.  And the next time God came around, they hid from him.


The Temptation of Eve
Cath├ędrale Saint Lazare-Autun, c. 1130

But God was even smarter than Adam and Eve, so he knew right away what they had done.  Eve blamed the serpent for tempting her, and Adam blamed Eve for giving him some of the fruit.  God told the serpent that he would have to slither around on his belly forever and ever after that.  Eve was condemned to having lots of pain during childbirth, and Adam would always have to work for a living.  Then they got kicked out of the Garden of Eden.


The Fall of Man
Jacob Jordaens, 17th century

So that's the story, and it's a story that is meant to explain a lot of things, including why people in the Western tradition tend to think of snakes as creepy and evil.  But it was also a good story for artists to make paintings and sculptures out of.  So today I am going to show you some of that artwork, starting with a famous one that Michelangelo painted in the Sistine Chapel.


The Fall of Man and the Expulsion from Paradise
Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, Vatican, 1508-12

Fall of Man
Luther Brosamer, 1550


Adam and Eve
(Hans) Sebald Beham, 16th century


Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris


Illuminated Parchment, Spain, 950-955 C.E.


The Temptation of Eve
William Blake, 1808

You might have noticed that in some of this artwork, the serpent has a woman's head.  There are people who think this means the serpent is Lilith, who was a female demon in Jewish mythology.  I don't know if this is true of not.  I did not see a single piece of art that showed the serpent as a man.  Personally, I think the reason for this is because all the artists were men, and they were tired of their wives or mothers telling them to go out and get a real job instead of sitting around painting pictures all the time.  But when I told you the Garden of Eden story, I called the serpent "he" because I am a female, and I don't like to think of females as demons.  So there.

2 comments:

  1. One of my favorites is Domenichino's Expulsion of Adam and Eve. I think the look on their faces is funny and so telling of human nature. (I can't really say about doggie nature, but I do know that dogs make faces, too.)

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  2. I think maybe I saw that painting when I was doing research for my blog, but I just now looked it up again. It is a very good painting, especially the faces, like you said. I was mostly trying to use paintings that showed a good view of the serpent, since this is still the Year of the Snake. Of course, the whole Garden of Eden thing has nothing to do with Chinese culture!

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