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Adam and Eve

Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528)


Medium engraving Measurements H: 22 x W: 16 in. (25.08 x 19.21 cm) Credit Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom Accession Number 74.7.81 Location Not on View


Albrecht Dürer learned the craft of engraving during an apprenticeship to his father, a goldsmith. Until about 1500, his engravings were skillfully executed but technically grounded in the work of earlier craftsmen. By 1504, however, when he produced Adam and Eve, Dürer had brought engraving to a level of technical brilliance and expressiveness that remains unequaled. For Adam and Eve, Dürer made a series of preparatory drawings pursuing the study of human proportion and the creation of ideal models of male and female beauty. This engraving is the culmination: thus the static composition in which Adam and Eve are posed before a dark, densely hatched forest. The narrative content of man's dramatic fall from grace is suppressed in the interest of displaying the beauty of the classical nude. Dürer's skill enabled him to contrast Adam's muscular body with the softness of Eve's flesh; the fur of the cat at Adam's feet with the slick skin of the snake; the thick bark of the trees with the crispness of the foliage. The composition is filled with symbolism: Adam holds a branch of mountain ash, which represents the tree of life; the parrot signifies the Virgin birth of Christ; the tiny goat atop the peak at the upper corner symbolizes the sinful into whose ranks Adam and Eve will soon fall. The quality of this print makes it one of the finest impressions of this engraving in existence. Its provenance can be traced to the seventeenth century, testimony to the high regard in which Durer's engravings have always been held.