Eve in Medieval Art


Symbolism in the Medieval period had both theological and societal significances, and the figure of Eve demonstrates how these two sorts of significances coexisted in a individual symbolic signifier. Medieval symbolism about ever occurred in art that was commissioned by or for the churches. In spiritual footings, the art of the Middle Ages was meant to teach people of all categories and to be an assistance to prayer and the contemplation of spiritual thoughts. But, as art historiographers have begun to indicate out, this art was besides a system of ocular marks that can be viewed in footings of “ function theoretical accounts, societal patterns, and an encoded value system of societal mores ” ( Alexander 1 ) . In purely theological footings, the character of Eve, the first adult female, was used to typify the Fall of the human race. Eve ate the fruit of the “ tree of the cognition of good and evil ” and persuaded Adam to eat it every bit good ( Hall 4 ) . This caused the human race to see wickedness and immorality. But Eve was besides used as a symbol of the nature of adult females, seen as enchantresss seeking to take work forces into wickedness. On seeing the figure of Eve as she was presented in Romanesque art, the spectator was reminded of the Fall, but, depending on how she was depicted, the spectator could besides be reminded that adult females are weak-willed, fallacious seducers who are non to be trusted.

The plant that will be investigated to back up this thesis, is Eve at the middle ear ( c. 1125-1150 )

The theological and the societal significances of the symbol were non wholly separate. The Church besides seemed interested in advancing this misogynous thought of adult females as a societal value. But the significances were dissociable, in the sense that, when Eve was used as the basic theological symbol of the Fall, the deductions about the behaviour of adult females in general did non hold to be portion of the symbol.

In one sense, Medieval art consisted of a sort of “ sacred authorship ” in which the individuality or utilizations of certain pictural elements were widely understood ( Male, “ Medieval ” 267 ) . Male gives the illustration of a aura which, when placed behind a individual ‘s caput, indicates sainthood or sanctity. In a more complicated illustration, a bare adult female, with or without a serpent or a tree, and keeping a piece of fruit, would be known to be Eve. These peculiar properties would be given to her when the enticement of Eve by Satan ( and/or Eve ‘s enticement of Adam if he was present ) was the topic being shown — but Eve could be shown in other state of affairss as good.

Medieval art is besides a “ symbolic codification, ” and, since the earliest times, Christian art had “ spoken in figures, demoing work forces one thing and ask foring them to see in it the figure of another ” ( Male, “ Medieval ” 272 ) . This means that, one time the spectator identified Eve ‘s Temptation by her properties of nudity, the tree, the serpent, and the fruit, so the spectator could travel on to the apprehension of what Eve, in this state of affairs, symbolized. She symbolized the Fall of the human race, which was, because of her actions, condemned to enduring, hurting, decease, and wickedness. The human race could non be redeemed until Jesus suffered and died for all humanity and provided the agencies of obtaining, through the Church, ageless redemption. Therefore, in its field theological usage, the figure of Eve was connected to the mission of the Church because her actions were responsible for doing the Church necessary. For this ground, Medieval artists ( or the people who planned the art of the churches ) “ saw the Temptation as a prefiguration of the Annunciation in which the Virgin Mary, as the ‘New Eve, ‘ redeemed the wickedness of the old ” Eve ( Hall 5 ) .

Petzold provides an illustration of this symbolic coupling of Eve and the Virgin Mary in Romanesque art. This is the sculpture on the middle ear ( c. 1125-1150 ) over the room access at the church of Neuilly-en-Donjon in France, where “ three interconnected scenes from the Bible ” show the three chief originals of adult females: Eve, Mary Magdalen ( a reformed fornicatress ) , and the Virgin Mary ( Petzold 123 ) . The three adult females are all shown in relation to a adult male. In the bottom subdivision of the sculpture ( the header ) , Eve turns from the tree to allure Adam with the fruit, and Mary Magdalen kneels in forepart of Jesus and “ anoints his pess and wipes them with her hair ” ( Petzold 123 ) . Above them, the chief sculpture shows the Magi idolizing Jesus, who sits on Mary ‘s lap. Around Mary and Jesus, angels blow horns observing Mary ‘s victory over wickedness. Male, noticing on this same sculpture, says that symbolically the work meant that “ adult female, through whom wickedness came into the universe [ Eve ] and by whom it was perpetuated [ Mary Magdalen ] , is at last and everlastingly rehabilitated by the Virgin ” ( Religious 431 ) . The same connexion is made in another Gallic church at Anzy-le-Duc, where the chief middle ear sculpture shows the worship of the Magi on one side and Eve alluring Adam on the other. In the lower, lintel part of the sculpture, Eden is shown beneath the Virgin ‘s side, and snake pit is shown beneath Eve ( Male, Religious 432 ) .

These illustrations make clear Eve ‘s strictly theological importance as a symbol clear. But, as Male ‘s account indicated, the Eve-Mary Magdalen-Virgin Mary symbolism had a message about adult females in general. Women as a group were believed to be prone to transgress and to doing wickedness, particularly sexual wickedness because they tempted work forces. St. Bernard ( 1091-1153 ) , who was one of the most influential and “ facile speechmakers and authors of his age, ” emphasized that Eve ‘s wickedness was the wickedness of all adult females. He said in a discourse that Eve was “ the original cause of all evil, whose shame has come down to all other adult females ” ( quoted by Kraus 42 ) . But St. Bernard was besides a great booster of the cult of the Virgin Mary, which was going really popular in the 12th century. And, on the connexion between Eve and Mary, he said, “ Rejoice, Eve, rejoice in such a girl. . . Obloquy has been wiped out ; ne’er once more can adult female be accused ” ( quoted by Male, Religious 431 ) . But, in existent pattern, though they praised Mary, this did non much alteration the Church ‘s position of ordinary adult females as being iniquitous like Eve: “ In the glory of the Virgin, it was the Woman-Without-Sin, the non-woman Woman, the anti-Eve that was revered ” ( Kraus 46 ) . The extent to which Mary was non like a existent adult female was considered worthy of congratulations.

Petzold notes that, since this misogynous position of adult females was frequently portion of the Church ‘s message, the symbolism of Eve was expanded so that “ images of her in art often stress her function as a sexual enchantress ” ( 124 ) . In this function, Eve becomes a symbol of the iniquitous nature of all adult females. Her function in theologically of import events does non necessitate this reading at all ( although her feminine failing was ever implied by the Bible narrative ) . But, in the Middle Ages, this reading of Eve was rather popular. Petzold points out the representation of Eve in this character in another Romanesque church in France, the Autun Cathedral. In a fragment of sculpture by Gislebertus from around 1130, Eve is shown bare and about lying down, supported merely by her articulatio genuss and one cubitus. The place may mention to the narrative that God punished her by doing her crawl on the land like the serpent who tempted her. But what is most striking about the Autun Eve is that, at a clip when nakedness was rare in art, “ the sinuate figure of Eve, with her rounded chests, is one of the most erotically charged images in Romanesque art, ” and she is portrayed “ non so much as [ a ] evildoer but as [ a ] enchantress who invite [ s ] Adam, and by deduction work forces in general, to perpetrate wickedness ” ( Petzold 125 ) .

At this clip, the Church was seeking to implement rigorous celibacy on priests and monastics, and emphasizing the wickedness of sexual dealingss and of adult females in general likely was portion of that attempt ( Petzold 125 ) . But, as Kraus shows, the figure of Eve was the theoretical account for the assorted sculptures of the frailty of Unchastity, or Lust, “ which one finds on so many church frontages of the 12th century ” and is “ constantly a adult female, ” while the “ typically ‘male ‘ frailty, on the other manus, is either Pride or Avarice ” ( 42 ) . The overall feeling of adult females was of their complete inability to defy their sexual impulses and their deep desire to pull work forces into wickedness. But, while all this did help the Church in its effort to bring on celibacy in priests, “ it was barely the sort of learning calculated to distribute fondness for the married womans and female parents in the audience ” ( Kraus 44 ) .

This is what is meant by the societal significances of Medieval symbolism. As Alexander explains it, these images “ functioned to supply function theoretical accounts to subdivisions of the Christian community, ” and the Church used assorted artistic agencies to step in in the society “ in a assortment of contexts ” ( 1 ) . One of the methods that was used was repeat. Male pointed out how repeat of images ensured that every member of the possible audience would be sufficiently familiar with the assorted figures and their properties to acknowledge an Eve with her apple or a saint with her aura ( “ Medieval ” 267 ) . But, in add-on to acquaintance with the elements of the narratives, the “ ocular messages were hammered place by their iconographical similarity until they were taken for granted and therefore became an undisputed portion of mundane experience ” ( Alexander 1 ) .

One of the most lurid images of Eve is found in a series of relief sculptures demoing the ejection of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Paradise ( from the 12th century, at the Gallic church of Notre-Dame-du-Port, at Clermont-Ferrand ) . In these sculptures, “ Adam cast howling Eve to the land, kicks her, and drags her by the hair in a series of realistic gestures that ” may Maghave been inspired by a spiritual drama, Le Jeu d’Adam et Eve, that was performed “ both inside and outside of many churches ” ( Kraus 44 ) . The connexion between such representations of Eve-Woman as deserving of this sort of intervention and an official sanctioning of such behaviour by work forces toward their married womans is non hard to do. Some lines of the Adam and Eve drama read, “ Oh, evil adult female full of lese majesty / Forever contrary to ground, / Bringing no adult male good in any season: / Our kids ‘s kids to the terminal of clip / Will experience the barbarous whiplash of your offense ” ( quoted by Kraus 44 ) .

St. Bernard ‘s discourses, a popular drama, and repeated artistic representations of Eve as the beginning of evil all combine to demo how this symbol had a clear societal significance every bit good as a theological significance. Though the Church was non the lone beginning of such misogynisms, it was an active booster of the feeling, and the effects of the societal significance of the Eve symbol are, in portion, still present today.

Plants Cited

Alexander, Jonathan J. G. “ Iconography and Ideology: Uncovering Social Meanings in Western Medieval Christian Art. ” Studies in Iconography 15 ( 1993 ) : 1-44.

Hall, James. Subjects and Symbols in Art. 2nd erectile dysfunction. New York: Icon-Harper and Row, 1979.

Kraus, Henry. The Living Theatre of Medieval Art. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1967.

Male, Emile. “ Medieval Iconography. ” Ancient Egypt through the Middle Ages. Vol. 1 of Readings in Art History. New York: Scribner ‘s Sons, 1969. 265-91.

— -.. The Twelfth Century: A Study in the Origins of Medieval Iconography. Vol. 1 of Religious Art in France. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1978.

Petzold, Andreas. Romanesque Art. New York: Perspectives-Abrams, 1995.

© K & A ; C Research Assistance, Inc. , 1997


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