Adam and Eve

Albrecht Durer
Keywords: AdamEve

Work Overview

Adam and Eve
Artist Albrecht Dürer
Year 1507
Medium Oil on panel
Dimensions Two panels, each 209 cm × 81 cm (82 in × 32 in)
Location Museo del Prado, Madrid

Adam and Eve is a pair of oil-on-panel paintings by German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer.

Completed in 1507, the work followed a 1504 copper engraving by Dürer on the same subject, one which offered Dürer the opportunity to depict the ideal human figure. Painted in Nuremberg soon after his return from Venice, the panels were influenced by Italian art. Dürer's observations on his second trip to Italy provided him with new approaches to portraying the human form. Here, he depicts Adam and Eve at human scale—the first full-scale nude subjects in German painting.

Adam and Eve's first home was the Prague Castle, the property of collector Rudolf II. During the Thirty Years' War, armies plundered the castle and the panels came to be owned by Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. His daughter, Christina, gave the work to Philip IV of Spain in 1654. Later King Charles III ordered in 1777 that the painting be hidden in the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. It arrived at its current home, Madrid's Museo del Prado, in 1827, but was not publicly displayed until 1833.

The subject of Adam and Eve offered Dürer the opportunity to depict the ideal human figure. Painted in Nuremberg soon after his return from Venice, the panels were influenced by Italian art. Dürer's colouring is muted, and he models the bodies with the help of light and shadow, making the figures emerge from the dark background. Adam and Eve are noticeably slimmer than in his engraving of three years earlier.

Dürer's Adam and Eve represent the earliest known life-size nudes in Northern art. Eve, whose skin is whiter than Adam's, is next to the Tree of Knowledge, standing in a curious position with one foot behind the other. Her right hand rests on a bough and with her left hand she accepts the ripe apple offered by the coiled serpent. On a tablet is the inscription: `Albrecht Dürer, Upper German, made this 1507 years after the Virgin's offspring.' Adam inclines his head towards Eve and stretches out the fingers of his right hand on the other side, creating a sense of balance.

The Museum shows again the magnificent couple Adam and Eve (1507) of Dürer (1471-1528), after two years of intensive restoration work on their pictorial surfaces and panels. The intervention of the two panels has been undertaken by a team of international experts, coordinated between the Prado and the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles, this institution has funded the restoration of the delicate stands of the two paintings, for one of them an ingenious technical solution for stabilization has been necessary. To draw public attention to the complex work done in both panels, the two works will be exhibited exceptionally for four months in a different location than their usual one with a special exhibition display, sponsored by the Fundación Iberdrola, 'protector member' of the Museum’s restoration program signed from the date of presentation of these works after its restoration.

Dürer made this panel and its companion, Eve (P02178) upon returning from his second trip to Italy in 1505. Both works constitute an effort to synthesize what he had learned there, in search of a balance between Italian and Germanic approaches that would permit the ideal perfection of the human body. Thus, the choice of a biblical subject here is mere pretext. Dürer´s knowledge of the classical nude is prodigious, while the exactitude of his lines reveals the hand of a unique engraver rooted in the northern tradition. The growing Italian influence is visible in the monumental grandeur of his figures, while his Germanic orientation is clear in the colors, the precise details and a naturalist taste that is expressionist in nature. All this is further enlivened by his brilliant draftsman´s mind. This was a present from Queen Christine of Sweden to Felipe IV.

Like the painting of Adam (P02177), represented on a separate panel, Eve´s unstable posture, her rhythmical movements and her affected gestures are sometimes interpreted as a return to earlier models of Gothic art, instead of what they really are, a foretaste of Mannerism. The solidity of the two bodies, Eve´s slightly Gothic curves -the prototype of a Germanic Venus- and Adam´s fascinated expression, his mouth open in a personification of desire; are outstanding aspects of these two grandiose nudes, the first life-size ones in all of northern painting. Dürer nuances the differences between the two bodies, using a tan color for the man´s and a pinkish white one for the woman. And he conceives them as isolated, rather than alluding to the fall of Adam and Original Sin, which are subtly symbolized in the character´s expressions and in the motives that accompany them. The reference on the tablet to the fact that the work was painted after the Virgin gave birth (Christmas) determines its date of execution more exactly and alludes to Mary as the new Eve, who saves men from the sin which Adam and Eve are about to commit.