Adam and Eve

Although classes have only started a week ago (at the time of me writing this), I have already learned so much. This semester I am taking History of Women in Art, which examines works of art relating to women from 1915 to 2015. The course is offered this year to celebrate Marywood University’s centennial year. This class already has me thinking about women making, viewing, and being the subject of art. We recently had an assigned reading, Ways of Seeing by John Berger, that made me realize some very profound things. One that I wanted to share is how women are perceived and the evidence of that in renditions of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

The author starts by explaining the difference between being naked being nude. I had always thought these words were interchangeable. Berger explains, however, that being naked is still to wear a mental covering because you feel studied or watched, whether by men or by yourself. To be naked is to be carefree and to be oneself.

In paintings of of Adam and Eve, Berger explains, “[Eve] is not naked as she is. She is naked as the spectator sees her.” To me, this means Eve is always aware of the viewer, which is evident in her gaze and in her body position. I decided to consult with Google to see whether this was an exaggeration or not. Here are three portraits of Adam and Eve by Peter Paul Rubens, Titian, and Tintoretto, respectively.

While not every result supported this theory, many did. I chose three that exemplified the patterns I noticed. One thing I noticed frequently was the way Eve was much paler than Adam. While this probably had to do with beauty standards of the time they were painted, it makes Eve the brightest and most noticeable subject in the painting. Another very noticeable thing was Adam usually has an arm crossed over his torso or his back is to the viewer.  Eve, on the other hand, was usually very easy and inviting to look at.

In general, the subject of Eve is nude, hyperaware of the surveillance of the viewer of the painting. I found this realization to be very interesting and it will always be something I keep in mind while thinking critically about art in the future.

Rubens’ Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve

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