Serpents and Sex: “The Temptation of Eve” in Art Through the Ages

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The Fall of Mankind

Why is there evil in the world? Why do we feel tempted to do things we think we should not do? What are the consequences of becoming conscious of good, evil, our own consciousness, and our impending death? Why do we die?

These are fundamental questions of human existence addressed through the story of “The Fall”. The Fall refers to the Judeo-Christian origin story of humanity, in which the first humans transition from a harmonious relationship with God in a garden paradise (Eden) to separation in a world filled with discordance and death. The transition starts with a snake, as told in Genesis.

1887, John Collier, Lilith (The Atkinson Art Gallery, Southport, England)

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”  But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” Genesis 3:1-7 English Standard Version

Artistic Interpretations

From the early days of Christianity, artists have used their imaginations and tradition to portray this pivotal scene. On a basic level, the portrayals are often meant to visually interpret the text, especially for illiterate viewers.

Beyond illustrating the text, artists have used the story to communicate many deeper themes that reinforced cultural norms, including the nature of temptation, or the relationship between man, woman, and nature.

The Original Sin.
12th-13th century mosaic, Cathedral of the Assumption, Monreale, Sicily

When the artist includes the three figures of the serpent, Adam, and Eve, the image can visually serve as an earthly mirror to the “Holy Trinity” of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Though the Genesis text doesn’t reveal this, the serpent is traditionally identified as Satan, a spiritual creature opposed to God the Father. Adam would be the contrast to the Son of God, and Eve is the counter to the Holy Spirit, the comforter.

Masaccio, 1424, The Holy Trinity in the Church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence
Masolino, Temptation (from the Brancacci Chapel), 1425-1427, fresco

The concept of the pure and innocent first couple living in a perfect environment allows artists to present an ideal human form, or idyllic nature. Observing how the human figures are drawn through the ages reflects evolving knowledge of anatomy and cultural norms of personal beauty. How much detail is devoted to the garden and its inhabitants, both flora and fauna, also reveals contemporary knowledge of the environment, as well as a philosophy of mankind’s relation to nature.

1800-1829 Johann Wenzel Peter Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden

The temptation to disobedience and evil via the snake also gives artists the opportunity to introduce a sensuous element in the image. When cultural mores allow, the snake can make an obvious phallic symbol, and Eve can be interpreted to have been seduced by the serpent. Thus, the way in which artists depict Eve, Adam, the Serpent, and the garden makes an interesting study of changes in areas such as artistic technique, philosophy, or cultural views of women, men, and evil.

1887, John Roddam Spencer Stanhope(1829-1908)  The Temptation of Eve

I’ve gathered over 435 interpretations of the self-awakening moment involving the Serpent, Eve, and Adam, spanning from Roman times to the present. I will include comments and analysis as time permits; meanwhile, one can browse the images just to enjoy their beauty. To go deeper, I will develop the series to follow the evolution of art over the ages, reflecting on how techniques or emphasis in subject matter have changed.

We may also ponder what the development of interpretations over time tells, if anything, about humanity’s condition. Is the human story a hero’s journey…humans expelled from a paradise because of their pride in thinking they could be god, followed by suffering due to overreaching ambition and malevolent action, but ending with increased knowledge over time that allows a return to Eden in an enlightened state?

Things to Ponder When Looking at The Fall

To enrich your experience as you view these images, I suggest some elements to consider.

Look at poses…Are the figures standing, sitting, fearful, seductive, curious, disinterested, dance-like?

Is the serpent in the middle, separating man and woman? Or are the man and woman united together facing the serpent?

Look at what is being emphasized—the snake, Eve’s body, the garden?

Are there man-made features, such as walls or buildings, that communicate something about the cultural context of the work?

How big is Adam, Eve, or the snake in relation to the rest of the scene?

Does the image’s main purpose seem to be a religious communication for educational or moral purposes? Or is the artist using the story as a medium to communicate beauty, seduction, or some other objective?

How does the image of the serpent change, and could it indicate different world views or psychological interpretations of temptation and evil?

Eyes Wide Open

Whether or not one believes the Genesis story literally, or sees it as myth, the message of The Fall has timeless and deep truths that address the human condition. It is the story of the awakening of human consciousness…opening our eyes to see our own nakedness, vulnerabilities, and potential for both good and evil.

It’s quite possible that the snake literally “opened our eyes” and pushed us on an evolutionary path to self-consciousness. In her book The Fruit, the Tree, and the Serpent: Why We See So Well, Primatologist and author Lynne A. Isbell proposes that as human primate ancestors co-evolved with their most dangerous predator, the snake, they developed an enhanced visual acuity for detecting the danger. The considerable neural requirements for advanced vision led to larger brains. Larger brains gave increased cognitive ability.

Eventually, primates not only saw physical objects better—their human descendants began to see the future…and even the possibility of multiple futures that depended on which action one took from a range of choices. Seeing better gave the gift of reason. Humans could reason that the snake in the tree was an immediate danger, but there was a source for the snake in the tree…and they could hunt down and eliminate that source as well. Reason told them that the fruit they were eating today was coming from a source that they could find and control. Sacrificing their labor to plant in the present meant food for the future. Reason opened their eyes to their own vulnerabilities, including the realization that they themselves faced death.

McGilchrist, Iain. The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (p. 22). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

And that last insight opened up the possibility for humans to choose charitable or malevolent actions. Reason allowed humans to recognize that their own weaknesses existed in others, and that they could empathetically help people in need, or they could exploit weaknesses for their own gain. Psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist explains in his work The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, “The evolution of the frontal lobes prepares us at the same time to be exploiters of the world and of one another, and to be citizens one with another and guardians of the world. If it has made us the most powerful and destructive of animals, it has also turned us, famously, into the ‘social animal’, and into an animal with a spiritual dimension.”

When we look at these images of Adam, Eve, and the serpent, we are seeing the birth of self-consciousness and the ability to foresee. We can take notice of how many artists grasp the significance of the moment in the facial expressions of Eve and Adam as they manifest their self-consciousness and gaze upon the future of humanity.

Symbology of the Snake

The snake’s role in the images of the story is crucial.  The serpent opened our eyes, but that state of consciousness brought the possibility of people acting with intent to cause suffering or the death of others. Psychologist and philosopher Jordan Peterson identifies the snake in the Genesis story as a symbol of chaos, destruction, and the antithesis to ordered creation.

French photographer Marta Bevacqua Source

“The snake isn’t just the snake in the garden, and the snake isn’t just the possible snake, and the snake isn’t just the snake that’s your enemy. The snake is your friend, because your friend can betray you. And then it’s even worse than that, because you can betray you. So even if you get rid of all the outside snakes, you’ve got an inside snake.

If you’re a sophisticated human being with six million years of additional evolution, and you’re really trying to solve the problem of what it is that’s the great enemy of mankind…Well, it’s the human propensity for evil, right? That’s the figure of Satan. That’s what that figure means…. 

It’s motivated by absolutely nothing but malevolence and the willingness to destroy, and it has every reason for doing so.”

In the perfect garden, where all was stability and order, the snake appeared to destroy the perfection. The snake thus represents chaos that fights against creation. The German author Goethe captures the destructiveness of the serpent in his novel Faust. Faust is the man who makes a deal with the devil, Mephistopheles. At one point, the devil describes himself as a destroyer.

Ignacio Trelis, Spanish artist (b. 1960) Faust makes a pact with the Devil

“I am the spirit that negates.

And rightly so, for all that comes to be

Deserves to perish wretchedly;

‘Twere better nothing would begin.

Thus everything that that your terms, sin,

Destruction, evil represent—

That is my proper element.”

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust – Part One

The Duality of Our Existence

The presence of evil in a good paradise reflects a fundamental duality of existence that we experience as humans. Duality of existence can be imagined in several aspects: Order versus Chaos, Good versus Evil, Creative versus Destructive, Yin versus Yang, Known versus Unknown, Security versus Liberty. It may very well be that the perception of duality stems from the nature of our hemispherical brain.

Neuroscience research has revealed much about the function of our brain’s two hemispheres. Put very simply, the left brain is more analytical and focused on details. It houses our areas for speech and for using tools. It receives data from the senses and creates a very strict and self-assured construct of the world. The right brain, on the other hand, is open to and oriented to detecting new situations. Its attention is wide-ranging rather than narrowly focused.

Like any animal, our early ancestors’ survival depended on two contradictory demands of their attention. To track, capture, kill, and eat prey, they needed sharp, undistracted, calculating attention. But to avoid becoming some other predator’s meal, they needed to be aware of threats lurking in the unknown, attending to a wide variety of threats in the surrounding environment. The left brain presents a self-contained, ordered world, even if it doesn’t always match a changing reality. The right brain presents a fluid concept of reality, dealing with the chaos of change.

Iain McGilchrist puts it this way. “I believe the essential difference between the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere is that the right hemisphere pays attention to the Other, whatever it is that exists apart from ourselves, with which it sees itself in profound relation. It is deeply attracted to, and given life by, the relationship, the betweenness, that exists with this Other. By contrast, the left hemisphere pays attention to the virtual world that it has created, which is self-consistent, but self-contained, ultimately disconnected from the Other, making it powerful, but ultimately only able to operate on, and to know, itself.”

The Garden of Eden represents the ordered world, much like the brain’s left hemisphere: structured, civilized, regulated, secure, stable. Prior to The Fall incident, Adam and Eve live in an unchallenged, unconscious bliss. Many artists attempt to convey this sense of a utopian, ordered environment.

The Snake in our walled garden

Our experience in life, however, senses that comfort and order can also mean stagnation. At any rate, it appears that we can’t prevent the appearance of chaos, even in paradise. Chaos lurks just outside the walls of the garden, waiting for an opportunity to enter. Just recently, I moved into a newly-built house. The freshly-planted yard seemed pristine, surrounded by solid 3-meter-high walls. Within the first month, I spotted our first snake that had evidently burrowed underneath the wall from the adjacent wild field. It’s impossible for chaos to not encounter order…that’s just the way life is.

A Hero’s Journey

The upside to the story of the Fall of Mankind is that chaos can challenge us to reach a higher level of life. Without the challenge to do evil, we would not be able to make a free choice for good. One could look at Eve and Adam’s decision to disobey God’s order and to desire knowledge of good and evil as a yearning for something beyond stability.  Yes, their self-awareness made them (and all humans by extension) capable of causing human suffering and death with malevolent behavior. But it also started mankind on a journey of redemption.

The “Hero’s Journey” is an archetypical story that appears in many versions of literature around the world—The Odyssey (Greek), The Journey West (Chinese), Lord of the Rings, and even Star Wars. It is the story of an innocent but naïve person who departs a safe environment on a quest. In the quest, the hero meets his or her failings and sins (which in the Hebrew and Greek original form literally means “misses the mark or target”), overcomes them through valiant effort, and eventually returns home wiser and stronger. Adam and Eve, or representatives of our first self-conscious ancestors, started humanity on the journey to solve the problem of what to do about the suffering and death that resulted from the knowledge of good, evil, and our own vulnerabilities.

In his book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Jordan Peterson states “It is far better to render Beings in your care competent than to protect them.” That’s a pretty good prescription for dealing with chaos, and it shows how humans have been solving the problem of their own self-awareness for many millennia. In the story of the fall, Adam and Eve made a poor choice in their disobedience, representing our choices to act dishonestly or malevolently, leading to expulsion from a walled, secure, orderly paradise. But that choice has led to an increasing competence in self-awareness, and for the Christian tradition, a chance to know grace and redemption. For artists who realized this, it became a hopeful and forward-looking theme hidden in the background of the fall.

And so we begin our journey of exploration of the images of this profound story. I have presented all the images I could find that were available online in chronological order of their production. I provide a link to the source for every image, and have attempted to verify the authenticity of the images and their description. I plan to analyze and comment on each image, or sets of images in some cases, to give the background of the works as well as discuss what the works may reveal about art, history, or the human condition. I would love to hear your comments and other observations!

The Gallery

Figure 1. 4th century Early Christian depiction of Adam and Eve in the Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter

Perhaps the earliest extant example of The Fall can be seen in a late 3rd – early 4th century catacomb traditionally known as the burial place of Christian martyrs Marcellinus and Peter. The tomb features a mixture of pagan and Christian imagery, reflective of the transitioning times. The fresco places the first Roman-looking couple on either side of the Tree of Knowledge in what would become a very common arrangement. The artist emphasizes their self-consciousness, posing them in a shameful gesture covering their reproductive organs with grape leaves. It’s unclear to me, but it appears the snake might be at the base of the tree.

Figure 2. A mosaic of Adam and Eve from the 5th c. CE now at the Cleveland Museum of Art. A Greek inscription above reads from Genesis: “And they ate, [and they] were made made naked.” Source
800-850 Moutier-Grandval Bible, produced in Tours at the Benedictine abbey of St. Martin. Source.
Detail of Moutier-Grandval Bible. Source.
846 Bible de Vivien, dite Première Bible de Charles le Chauve. (First Bible of Charles the Bald). Source.

Circa 950-955, Illustration of Adam, Eve, and Serpent from the Escorial Beatus manuscript, likely created in the San Millán de la Cogolla Monastery

This depiction of Adam, Eve, and the Serpent comes from a Spanish illuminated manuscript produced some time around 950 AD. There’s a gap of about 700 years from the Roman catacomb scene, but we can see a standard way of describing the story has developed: Adam and Eve on either side of the tree (Eve is more often to the right), with the serpent in the middle. The images are flat, not anatomically proportional, each covering their reproductive organs with a large leaf. 

Despite the simplicity, the artist manages to create interesting expressions of the couples’ wide-open eyes looking at each other with a mixture of surprise and shame. The snake’s partially open mouth appears to be whispering his clever temptation into Eve’s ear. Notice that although some kind of fruit hangs in the tree, they are not apples, and neither Adam, Eve, nor the serpent are holding a fruit. This artistic style is known as Mozarabic, due to its heavy influence from Islamic art (which was itself influenced by Greek art). 

Spain in 950 had been under Muslim rule for over 200 years, since 711AD when Moors from North Africa invaded and defeated the Visigoth ruler Roderick (who appears by most accounts to have been a tyrannical ruler who many would have been glad to see go). The early centuries of Muslim rule over the Iberian Peninsula were relatively tolerant. The capital of the area during the Umayyad Caliphate (661–750) was in Cordoba, where over 70 libraries served Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike. Such libraries were crucial for keeping the Western European world connected to Greek scholarship. Non-Muslims were “second-class citizens”, but at least they were citizens; if they followed rules such as accepting Islamic political control and not proselytizing Muslims, they were free to pursue their faith.  

Monks in the San Millán de Cogolla monastery, in the wine-producing La Rioja area of Northeast Spain, had in fact just recently been freed from direct Islamic rule when this manuscript was produced around 950. A coalition of early Spanish monarchs conquered the Islamic forces in the nearby town of Nájera less than 30 years previously, although the local ruler was later forced submit to Cordoba as a vassal state. The Islamic influence on art lingered for some time in the see-saw world of Christian and Islamic struggle for political control.

The Escorial Beatus manuscript, in which today’s artwork can be found, was a commentary on an 8th century work about the “Apocalypse”. (The Apocalypse is the story of the end of the physical world as told in the Biblical work Revelation). The inclusion of “The Fall” scene in a work about the Apocalypse is likely included to set up the sweeping story of human corruption and then redemption. The story of the Apocalypse also symbolized Christian resistance to Muslim rule for many Christians of the time. In that story of the end of the earth, a menacing beast appears, who in early centuries was interpreted to be the pagan Roman Empire, but came to be seen as the Caliphates after the spread of Islam. 

Gallery Continued

976 AD, Illustration in the Codex Vigilanus. Read more at A 10th Century Multicultural Eve, Serpent, and AdamSource.
10th – 11th Century Byzantine ivory box. Source.
Early 11th Century.
From Tebtunis (Um el-Beregat, Faiyum). Now in the Coptic Museum, Cairo. 3962

From the Egypt Museum site: This unique fresco represents Adam and Eve before and after their fall from grace. To the right they are depicted without genitals, innocent and unashamed. Next to Adam a horse tied to a tree symbolizes the control of evil. To the left Adam and Eve hide their shame with fig leaves after eating from the forbidden tree. Next to Eve’s head a snake symbolizes the fatal seduction. A Coptic script along the upper edge of the fresco describes their banishment from the Garden of Eden.

1100 circa The Salerno Ivories Source.
Eve c. 1130 Stone (originally on the door lintel of the former north transept portal of the Cathedral of Saint-Lazare in Autun)
Musée Rolin, Autun by Gislbertus. Source
1130 Gislebertus from Cathedral of Saint-Lazare, Autun. Front View. Source.
Creation of Adam and Eve, Fall of Man. 1100s
Marble, height 100 cm
Cathedral of San Geminiano, Modena. Source

12th-13th Century rupestrian painting from the rock-hewn church of Qorqor Maryam, Tigray region, Northern Ethiopia and needlework of wool on cotton scrim (1992-1996).  Source1. Source2.

1151-2 Liber Scivias by Hildegard von Bingen. Source.

1181 Verdun Alter by Nicholas of Verdun. © Photo-copyright by Source.
1140-70 Mosaic
Cappella Palatina, Palermo Source. Read more at Mediterranean Mosaics of Chaos and Order: How Arabic-Speaking Norman Warriors Produced Multicultural Marvels.
1189 Scene 12 from the Genesis-Cycle
Monreale cathedral, north wall mosaic. Source.

The cathedral of Monreale, above Palermo, was erected by Norman King William II (1167/71-1189) in a royal park on the site of an earlier Greek church. Work on the structure and its decoration was largely completed by the death of the king in 1189. 

1180s Mosaic
Cathedral, Monreale.

Read more at Mediterranean Mosaics of Chaos and Order: How Arabic-Speaking Norman Warriors Produced Multicultural Marvels.

1180s Mosaic
Cathedral, Monreale.

Read more at Mediterranean Mosaics of Chaos and Order: How Arabic-Speaking Norman Warriors Produced Multicultural Marvels.

1215-35 Mosaic
Basilica di San Marco, Venice.

Read more at Mediterranean Mosaics of Chaos and Order: How Arabic-Speaking Norman Warriors Produced Multicultural Marvels.

Read more at Mediterranean Mosaics of Chaos and Order: How Arabic-Speaking Norman Warriors Produced Multicultural Marvels.

1175-1225 Old English Hexateuch (1st six books of Bible). Source.
12th century Detail of a stained glass window in Saint Julien Cathedral – Le Mans, France. Source.
Early 13th Century Chartres Cathedral, France. Source.
12th – 13th century.  Adam, Eve, and the (female) serpent (often identified as Lilith) at the entrance to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Source.
1220-1230 Relief on the right portal of the west façade 
Amiens Cathedral, France. Source.
1230 St. Michaels Church Ceiling panel. Source.
Mid-13th Century. German manuscript, unknown artist. From The Barnes Collection. Source.
1250 Southern German Psalter. Source.

“This initial begins Psalm 97, “Cantate domino canticum novum” (Sing to the Lord a new song), which praises God for his mercy and for the salvation of the world. Psalm 97, the beginning of one of the ten major divisions of the Psalms, is typically illustrated with a scene of a choir of monks. Here, however, the illuminator has chosen to emphasize the reason why the world needed to be saved.” — Library of Philadelphia Digital Collections 

1250-1300 Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Psalterium, Karlsruhe Lichtenthal 25, f.46r. Source.
1270-1280 From vellum manuscript MS K.26 f.4r (St. John’s College, Cambridge). One of a sequence of 46 Biblical illustrations inserted at the front of a fourteenth-century Psalter. Source.
1296 First Kaufmann Mishneh Torah. Source.
1300 circa. Jewish Manuscript. Source.

1300 circa. Anonymous. Speculum salvationis humanae BSB Clm 3003, Bavarian State Library, Munich, Germany. Source.

14th century early, The Adam and Eve Reliefs on the Facade of the Cathedral of the Assumption, Orvieto. Source.
14th Century, early. Pisa Cathedral. Source
1320-1330 The Golden Haggadah, Catalonia, Spain. Source.
14th century first quarter, Peter of Peckham,  La lumiere as lais; Apocalypse (the ‘Welles Apocalypse’). Source.
14th century first quarter, Maastricht Book of Hours. Source.
1327-1335 Holkham Bible Picture Book. Source.
1350 Jewish Manuscript Sarajevo Haggadah. Origin Barcelona, Spain.  Source.
1350-1400 Speculum humanae salvationis. Source.
1351-60, Vitale da Bologna, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel 
Fresco Abbey of Pomposa, Italy. Source.
1375-1383 Master Bertram Depiction of the Fall in Kunsthalle Hamburg. Source.
1396 Rüdiger Schopf Adam, Eve, and the Serpent
Manuscript illustration 
Basel, Universitätsbibliothek, MS. A II 1, folio 16r. Source.
14th century, late. Stained glass of Marienkirche, Frankfurt. The Hermitage Museum. Source.
1400 circa. Guiard des Moulins, Bible historiale Ms francais 3 fol-8v – Paris 15e siècle – Péché originel et les quatre fleuves du paradis. Source.
1404 (latest) Walters manuscript W.171 dedicated to Albrecht of Bavaria, Count of Holland. Source.
15th Century. Misericords at Worcester Cathedral. Source.
1410-1412, Virgil Master, French translation of Augustine’s City of God, Paris. Source.
1412-1416 Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry Folio-25v). Source.
1415 Boucicaut Master in Concerning the Fates of Illustrious Men and Women by Giovanni Boccaccio. Paris, France. Source.
1425 Masolino Temptation of Adam and Eve, Fresco Brancacci Chapel, S. Maria del Carmine, Florence. Source.
Detail of 1425 Masolino Temptation of Adam and Eve, Fresco Brancacci Chapel, S. Maria del Carmine, Florence.
1425-38 ‘Peccado Originale’ (‘The Original Sin’) – Jacapo della Quercia. Source.
1425-52 After Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378 – 1455).Creation of Adam and Eve, the Fall and the Expulsion from Paradise, 
The Gates of Paradise, Baptistery, Florence 1425-52 Plaster cast, late 18th century
1432 Jan van Eyck. Source.
1450-1467 Meister E. S., Germany. Source.
1455 Jewish manuscript. Source.
1455 Ludolphus de Saxonia (supposed author). Satan Deceives Eve by Means of the Serpent
From Le Miroir de Humaine Salvation (The Mirror of Human Salvation).
Diabolus decepit evam per serpentem. Source.
1460s early, Willem Vrelant, Adam and Eve Eating the Forbidden Fruit, Arenberg Hours. Source.
1400s late Belgian Book of Hours from Bruges or Ghent. Source.
15th century. Dutch or Flemish artist. Besserer Chapel, Ulm, Munster. Source.
1465 Deutsche Bibel (Altes Testament). Illustrated by Berthold Furtmeyr. Source.
1465-1470 Furtmeyr Bible, Regensburg, after 1465, München BSB Cgm 8010a fol. 10r. Source.

The confluence of four rivers behind the tree identify the location of Eden as described in the book of Genesis.

1465-1470 Furtmeyr Bible, Regensburg, after 1465, München BSB Cgm 8010a fol. 10r. Source.
1469-1473, Master François, Saint Augustin, La Cité de Dieu (St. Augustine, The City of God), translated into French by Raoul de Presles. Source.
Detail from St. Augustine, The City of God. 1469-1473.
1470 Italian Antiphonary. Source.

“This initial begins the antiphon for Septuagesima Sunday, “Dixit dominus ad adam de ligno quod est in medio paradisi ne comedas …” (The Lord said to Adam, Of the tree which stands in the middle of paradise, you shall not eat).” — Philadelphia Library Digital Collection

1470 Hugo van der Goes, ‘The Temptation’. Source.
1478 Salzburg Missal. Source.
1483, Johann Veldener, woodcut. Source.
1485 Hans Memling. Source.
1491, Melchior Wohlgemuth, Nuremberg Bible manuscript. Source.
1496 Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506). Source.
1499 Book of Hours, Rouen. Source.
1499 Jorg Ruge from the Wappenbuch (Book of Heraldry). Source.
1500s Fanefjord Churc Fresco. Source.
1500, Book of Hours MS H.5. Paris, France. Source.
1500-1534 Marcantonio Raimondi. Source.
1504 Durer. Source.
1504, Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve. Engraving. Source
16th C In the style of Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528). Source.
1504-1550 Loy Hering (after Dürer) Ivory Carving. Source.
1505 circa. Lucas Cranach the Elder. Source.

This is likely one of Cranach’s earliest depictions of the Fall of Man, the moment Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit. The serpent-woman may come from the legend of Lilith, said to be Adam’s first wife.

1507 Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve. Source.

From “Art and the Bible” website: “While Adam longs for the apple, Eve listens to the snake. The sign says that Albrecht Dürer made these panels in 1507. He had just returned from a stay in Venice (1505-1507), where he studied the work of local painters such as Titian, Giorgione and Bellini.
In these panels Dürer combined the exactitude of German engravers with the Italian renaissance’s knowledge of anatomy. The life-size nudes probably were the first in Northern European art.

1508 Raphael. Fresco. Source.  
1508 Jan Gossaert. Source.
1509 Lucas Cranach the Elder. Woodcut. Source.

According to the “Art and the Bible” website, this woodcut shows similarities to the Dürer sketch shown above, although Adam is sitting.  In the images below you can see that Cranach abandons muscular renaissance figures for gracefully tall and slim nudes. His studio produced over 50 images on this subject. I’ve collected 26 digital images for this virtual gallery.

In this woodcut, Cranach shows most of the animals in pairs. His animal reproductions in his series on the temptation and fall are often symbolic. The single lion in the foreground is a traditional symbol of Christ and here emphasizes the peaceful co-existence of creatures in paradise. The coats of arms hanging from the tree belong to Frederic III, Elector of Saxony, in whose court Cranach worked. The note on the tree has the letters LC and a winged serpent, the symbol Frederic had granted to Cranach.

1509-1510 Lucas Cranach the Elder. Source.
1510 Lucas Cranach the Elder. Source.
1510 circa. Lucas Cranach the Elder. Source.
1511 Hans Baldung Grien. Source.
1512 Lucas Cranach the Elder. Source.
1508-1512 Michelangelo. Fresco on the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, The Vatican, Rome.Source.

From the “Christian Iconography” website:
Starting in the early 13th century, many images of the serpent in Eden give it a woman’s face. But making it female from the waist up is Michangelo’s own innovation, most likely inspired by the Echidna in Hesiod’s Theogony, 295-313:
Then Keto bore another invincible monster,
in no way like mortal men or the deathless gods;
yes, in a hollow cave she bore Echidna, divine
and iron-hearted, half fair-cheeked and bright-eyed nymph
and half huge and monstrous snake inside the holy earth,
a snake that strikes swiftly and feeds on living flesh.

First she gave birth to Orthos, the dog of Geryones,
and then she bore a stubborn and unspeakable creature,
Kerberos, the fifty-headed dog of Hades….

Her third child was the loathsome Hydra of Lerna.
In modeling the serpent on Echidna, Michelangelo is taking a hint from Hesiod that was heeded by other classically inspired artists portraying Sin as fair above, false below, and endlessly fecund. Milton used this model for the character named Sin (Paradise Lost, II, 650-59), who also mothers “hell-hounds.” Spenser used her for Errour, who mothers “a thousand yong ones” in The Faerie Queene (I, 119-35).
Also untraditional are the placement of Adam and Eve both on the same side of the tree and Adam’s reaching for the fruit himself. (In Genesis, he receives it from Eve.)

1512-1514 Marcantonio Raimondi, after Raphael. Source.
16th century early, In the manner of Giulio Romano (Italian, b. ca. 1499–1546) The Temptation of Adam and Eve. Source.
16th Century early. Adriaen Isenbrant – Adam and Eve (at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, de Young) Source.
1513 circa. Albrecht Altdorfer. Source.
1514 Hans Baldung Grien. Source.
1515 Book of Hours, Rome. Source.

1515 Adam and Eve, 1515, glazed terracotta.  Giovanni della Robbia workshop, Italian (Florence).  Baltimore Museum of Art. Source.

1516 Jheronimus Bosch ca. 1450 – 1516. Haywayn triptych Source
1516 Detail from Jheronimus Bosch ca. 1450 – 1516. Haywayn triptych Source
1517 Hans Holbein the younger. Source.
1518 Lucas Cranach the Elder. Source.
1519 Hans Baldung. Source.
1520 Circa. Giuliano di Piero di Simone Bugiardini. Source.
1520 Circa. Bugiardini. Eve. Source.

“These two paintings depicting the biblical story of the temptation of Eve were probably made to be set within the wall paneling of a Florentine bedroom around 1520. Bugiardini painted several comparable oblong nude figures for similar settings but more typically the figures are taken from classical history or myth. Bugiardini and his contemporary Francesco Granacci, whose works are displayed nearby, both knew Michelangelo well, and were part of the group of talented painters who studied with Domenico Ghirlandaio.” — Met Museum

1520 Jan Mabuse Gossaert Source.
1520-25 Hans Baldung Grien, Eve, the Serpent, and Death,  (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa). Source.
1520-1525 Jan Gossaert, Wien, Albertina Source.

It’s interesting to compare Baldung’s Eve to his contemporary depiction of Venus.

1525 Hans Baldung Grien. Venus and Amor. Oil on Panel. Source.
1525 Jan Gossaert. Source.
1526 Lucas Cranach the Elder. Source.
1527 Lucas Cranach the Elder. Source.
1527 Lucas Cranach the Elder. Source.
1528 Lucas Cranach the Elder. Source.
1514 circa. Lucas van Leyden. Source.
1517 circa. Lucas van Leyden. Source.
1528 Lucas van Leyden. Hamburg. Source.
1528 Jan Swart van Groningen. Illustration to Willem Vorsterman’s ‘De Bibel’ (Antwerp). Source.
1529 Lucas van Leyden 1494 – 1533. Source.
1529 Lucas van Leyden. Sin of Adam and Eve. Source.
16th century? After Lucas van Leyden. Source.
1528-30 Lucas Cranach the Elder. Source.
1530 Lucas Cranach the Elder. Source.

Cranach and his studio produced over 50 images of the Temptation of Eve and Adam. This contemporary painting of Venus provides an interesting comparison to his style in portraying the female form.

16th Century. Lucas Cranach the Elder (Private Collection). Source.
1530 Lucas Cranach the Elder Source.
Detail of 1530 Lucas Cranach The Elder, The Garden of Eden. Source.
1530 Lucas Cranach der Ältere The Garden of Eden. Source.
Zoomed-in detail of above.
1530 circa. Lucas the Elder. Source.
1530 circa. Lucas the Elder. Source.
1530 Lucas Cranach the Elder. Source.
1531 Lucas Cranach the Elder. Source.
1531 Hans Baldung Grien. Source.
1533 Lucas Cranach the Elder. Source.
1533 Lucas Cranach the Elder. Source.
1533 Lucas Cranach the Elder. Source. Museum der Bildenden Künste, Leipzig, Germany.
1533-37 Lucas Cranach the Elder Eve. Source.

From the Art Institute of Chicago website: “For most of his long career, Lucas Cranach the Elder was court painter to the Elector of Saxony. Although the general placement of Adam and Eve in these paintings reflects the influence of Albrecht Dürer’s renowned classicizing treatment of the same subject in paintings and prints, Cranach’s slender, undulating figures conform to the contemporary courtly ideals of beauty. This pair is one of the finest of the many versions of the subject made by Cranach and his workshop.”

1537 Lucas Cranach the Elder. Source.
After 1537 Lucas Cranach the Elder. Source.
1538 Cranach the Elder. Source.
1535 Willem van Branteghem, Pomarium mysticum tum novorum tum veterum fructuum, animae Christianae. Antwerp. Source.

This devotional book is illustrated with ninety-two woodcuts copied after prints by Albrecht Dürer, Hans Sebald Beham, and other German artists. The title could be translated as The Christian Soul’s Mystical Orchard of Fruits New and Old, an allusion to the Biblical forbidden fruit and Tree of Life. Depicting the life of Christ, portraits of saints, and scenes from the Last Judgment, the woodcuts are accompanied with prayers, hymns, and other meditative texts on the facing pages, a pictorial scheme explicitly intended to inspire and engage the reader. The woodcuts, ornamental initials, and decorative borders in this copy are colored in a contemporary hand. – Morgan Library and Museum

1540 Heinrich Aldegrever. Source.
1541 Heinrich Aldegrever from Die Mach des Todes. Source.
16th Century. Heinrich Aldegrever. Source.
1543 Hans Sehald Beham Adam and Eve with the Tree of Death. Source.
1548 Augustin Hirschvogel. Source.
1526-1550 Giuseppe della Porta Salviati Source.
1550 Titian. Fall of Man. Source.
1550 Lambert Suavius. Source.
1550 circa, Ja’far al-Sadiq, Adam and Eve from a copy of the Fālnāmeh (Book of Omens), Safavid dynasty, Iran. Source.

The Smithsonian Institute, Freer Gallery of Art website provides the following description of this Asian version of Adam and Eve: “In this painting, Adam, whom Muslims consider the father of humanity and the first prophet, is depicted riding a serpent; Eve rides a peacock. According to tradition, Iblis, the Islamic counterpart to Satan, was intent on entering the Garden of Eden to foil Adam and Eve. By appealing to his vanity, Iblis enticed the peacock, the gatekeeper of paradise, to allow the serpent, then the most beautiful of all creatures, to enter Eden. Seated between the serpent’s fangs, Iblis entered the garden and seduced Eve into eating the fruit of the forbidden tree.” Source.

1575-1599 Topkapi Persian Falnama (Book of Omens). Source.
1550 Maarten van Heemskerck Adam and Eve. Source.

From the Strasbourg Museum, where this panel is displayed (translated by Google from French): Heemskerck was in his time the most Italianate painter in Holland. During his stay in Italy, he drew after the Antiquities and was one of the first painters of the North to be struck by the poetics of ruins and became a mannerist in the wake of Michelangelo. In the spirit of the Renaissance, the study of human anatomy was paramount for an artist. The Mannerists have refined on the study of the body, from the live model and works of art, in order to show their virtuosity but also for expressive purposes. This would explain the very ostentatious, even aggressive, manner in Heemskerck of representing bodies. Unlike the Italian artists so influenced by Antiquity, in northern culture the naked body was for a long time the object of shame.

1550 circa (1514-1592) Michiel Coxcie. Original Sin. Kunsthistorisches Museum. Source.
1550-1553 Jacopo Robusti detto Jacopo Tintoretto. Source.
1552 Copied after Sebald Beham. Source
1535-1555 Jean Mignon. Source.
1560 Frans Floris De Vriendt. Source.
1560 circa Frans Floris de Vriendt. Mälmo Museum. Source.
1566 Jan (Johannes) Wierix Netherlandish. Source.
1570-1592 Girolamo Macchietti studio. The Temptation of Adam and Eve. Source.
1585 Hendrick Goltzius. Source.
1585 Jan Sadeler after Crispijn van den Broeck. Source.
1580-1600 Johann Theodor de Bry. Design for a Knife Handle with the Temptation of Adam and Eve. Source.

Panel with two knife handle designs, both with scenes under arches at top. The motif at left shows Adam and Eve tempted by the snake, after a design by Heinrich Aldegrever (Bartsch VIII.363.3). The scene at right shows a man with a rose before the seated figure of Death, shown as a skeleton, and is based on a design by Jan Saenredam after Hendrik Goltzius (Bartsch III.258.123). Both designs have a blackwork background with grotesques. From a series of twelve plates. Met Museum.

1587 Jost Amman. Adam and Eve: The Tree of Knowledge & Death. Source
1587-1612 Print by Cornelius Galle. Source.
16th Century late. Jan (Pietersz) Saenredam. Source.
1590 Theodore de Bry Adam and Eve, Historia Americae sive Novi Orbis, continens in XIII distinctis partibus. Source.
After 1590. German edition of Theodore de Bry in the text America in The University of Virginia. Source.
1592, oil on canvas by Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem (1562–1638) The Fall of Man. Source.
1593-1595 Bartholomeus Spranger. Fall Of Man. Source.
1597 Jan Saenredam, after Hendrick Goltzius. Source.
1599 Cornelis van Haarlem Source.
1597-1600 Peter Paul Rubens. Source.
1604 Jan Saendredam after Abraham Bloemaert. Print. Source.
1605 after Jan Saenredam, after Cornelis Cornelisz. Source.
1607 circa. Robert Barker, printer. Bible and Book of Common Prayer cover. Satin worked with silk and metal thread, spangles; long-and-short, split, satin, couching, brick, and knot stitches. Source.
1600 circa Cornelis Cornelisz. Source.
1608 Hendrick Goltzius Source.
1610 Circa. Crispijn de Passe the Elder. Print. Source.