The position of Michelangelo`s Adam is elucidated by comparison with the 5th-century BCE sculpture of Dionysos from the Parthenon (apparently known to Michelangelo); but in the case of the Greek image, the figure is in serene stasis, while Adam seems ready to leap into activity.
Similar concepts are found in many of the neighboring cultures of the Ancient Near East, as in this Ptolemaic painting of Khnemu, the creator god, shaping the future pharaoh on his potter`s wheel. Standing behind Khnemu is Thoth, the Egyptian god of Time, who marks the duration of his life. Thus the universal concern of parents with the life and well-being of their children is given concrete form.
The same concern with time and mortality is introduced into Michelangelo`s Adam by this modern reworking.
In the same period, another German artist, Meister Bertram, clearly shows the rib, from which Eve was built, according the Latin translation of the phrase “vayiven et hatsela.” But the word tsela, which occurs some 50 times in the Bible, consistently means “side”, a structural element. Only in Genesis 2 has tsela been understood as “rib”. However, the accompanying verb “and he built,” “vayiven” confirms that here too, the word tsela means “side.” In which case, either we read the account as the caesarean birth of Eve or as God separating the feminine side of Adam and presenting her to him. If the latter, the original Adam was an androgynous being. As already noted, the description of the formation of Adam (Genesis 2: 7) is composed of both feminine and masculine elements. Marc Chagall, coming out of the world of traditional Jewish learning, expressed his conception of humanity using two widely known midrashim on the creation of man and woman. According to one, they were created as an androgynous being and then separated into two, male and female. According to the other, the story of Adam and Eve`s creation, temptation and expulsion is limited to one single day, at the end of which they are forgiven and time begins.
Now the man called his wife`s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living
But her body is parallel to the cut off branch of the Tree of Life, marking her identity in classical Christian theology as the bringer of death to the world. Thus, Eve is like the earth that brings forth new life and takes back the dead.
They were both, the man and his wife, naked (arumim)…
And the serpent was shrewder (arum) than all the other creatures(Genesis 2:25; 3:1 )
Yet another alternate reading of the biblical story is found in William Blake`s painting, also an illustration of Paradise Lost.
Here, the serpent`s scheme has come to fruition in an erotic tête-a-tête. Adam, meanwhile, is too involved theologically to notice what`s going literally behind his back. Blake seems to be putting a different spin on the responsibility for falling into temptation: Eve is no innocent maid, but Adam is out to lunch.
Rembrandt, as always, has a different reading.
Perhaps the best known Eden painting is Michelangelo`s Temptation and Expulsion on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. A tantalizing three-part picture opens to the viewer. There are three couples in this painting: Adam and Eve engrossed in each other but distracted inhabit the left scene; Adam and Eve distraught leave the right-hand scene; in the center a strange couple lives entwined in the tree. What is going here?
Here are three remarkably different treatments of the Expulsion.
The most familiar is that of Massacio, which was known to Michelangelo from his youth in Florence. Some call this the first humanist rendition of the Expulsion, since the focus of the painting is on the emotions of Adam and Eve. While Adam covers his face in shame, his body is exposed: he is ashamed of his actions, not his body. Eve, on the contrary, covers her body, exposing the anguish on her upturned face. And the cherub hovers over them, not as a danger but as an insupportable burden. In the Muslim painting, some of the main elements of Christian iconography are also present: Adam and Eve (here given halos and half clad) are about to exit the gate of the garden, urged by a winged angel with a sword in his hand. But in addition, curious angels both behind and above observe their banishment. On the lower right, beyond the frame, three otherwise unknown figures, Islamic personifications of evil, lead the way: Iblis (Satan), the serpent and the peacock.
Pretty serious stuff! Mortality, guilt, anger, redemption. And traditionally, Eve gets the worst of it. But in Yevgeny Abeshaus` ironic rendition, Eve flowers, Adam is a neboch. The inscription above them reads: And Adam ate of the fruit Eve gave him, but he didn`t “get it”.