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The Fall of Man

Hendrik Goltzius1616

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Hendrik Goltzius was honored across Europe during his lifetime for his extraordinary abilities as a draftsman and printmaker. It wasn’t until about 1600 that he turned his talents to painting, drawing inspiration from the images of contemporaries such as Peter Paul Rubens.

In 1616, Goltzius painted this magnificent image of Adam and Eve reclining like mythological lovers in the Garden of Eden. Traditionally, images of the Fall emphasized shame, punishment, and the origins of humanity's mortality. Goltzius' emphasis on seduction through believably represented physical beauty was new in northern painting at the time. Eve, with her back to the viewer, has already taken the first bite of the apple and turns, with a knowing gaze, toward Adam. Mesmerized by his companion, Adam looks into her eyes with complete devotion. It is clear that they have encountered their first awakening of desire.

Several animals comment symbolically on the pair's relationship. The serpent's sweet female face is a visual statement on the deceptiveness of appearances. The elephant, in the distance to the right of Adam's hand, refers to the Christian virtues of piety, temperance, and chastity and represents a symbolic contrast to Adam's weakness of the flesh and infidelity to God. Goats, which are sometimes associated with Eve, signify a lack of chastity; Goltzius painted two goats. The cat looks out at the viewer expectantly, indicating that you are intended to judge and understand the consequences of succumbing to temptation. Through these symbolic references, Goltzius suggests that humanity's fall from grace was tied to Adam's and Eve's inability to restrain their physical appetites.

By re–creating the look of the real, visible world, Goltzius entices his viewer to become emotionally engaged in this biblical narrative. He placed the almost life–size figures of Adam and Eve so close to the front of the picture that they seem to occupy a space coexistent with our own. Details of flesh, hair, even grass and plants, are all painted in a bewitchingly believable fashion. Although no preparatory drawings survive, Goltzius must have worked from observation in combination with the classical Roman sources he also used for the figures’ poses. The result is an early instance of what would be called the baroque style, a naturalistic manner of representation that depends upon the viewer's empathetic response to fulfill its meaning.

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Details

  • Title: The Fall of Man
  • Date Created: 1616
  • Physical Dimensions: w1384 x h1045 cm (overall)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Patrons' Permanent Fund
  • External Link: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • painter: Hendrik Goltzius
  • Theme: religious, Old Testament
  • School: Dutch
  • Provenance: Possibly Boudewijn de Man, Delft; (his sale, Delft, 15 March 1644, no. 2, as Een Adam ende Eva).[1] Possibly private collection, Amsterdam, 1671.[2] Probably (anonymous sale, Hubert and Dupuy at Salle des Grands Augustins, Paris, 3 June 1774 and following days, no. 34, as Adam & Eve).[3] (Camillo Davico, Turin), before 1936; purchased 1936 by Prof. Mario Micheletti, Turin; acquired 1972 by private collection, Switzerland;[4] (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, New York, 15 May 1996, no. 51); purchased by NGA. [1] Owners through 1774, and the accompanying footnotes documenting the sources, are taken from the 1996 Christie's sale catalogue. Boudewijn de Man's ownership of "Een Adam ende Eva van Goltius [f.] 110" is documented in Gemeente Archief Delft, Notary archive no. 1861, deed no. 2035. [2] Hendrik Houmes' annotation "een Adam en Eva op de cingel tot Amsterdam" is in a copy of van Mander's Het Schilder Boeck, fol. 286 recto, preserved in the Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam. [3] Lot 34 in this sale is described as "Adam & Eve de Goltius, Pouc. de haut 40". It therefore measured approximately 100 centimeters in height (the width was not recorded), and it sold for 49.7 francs. [4] The anonymous Swiss owner provided information about the ownership by Davico and Micheletti to Lawrence W. Nichols in a letter of 6 March 1984. See Lawrence Wells Nichols, "The Paintings of Hendrick Goltzius (1558 1617)," Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1990: 185.

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