DÜRER, Albrecht
(b. 1471, Nürnberg, d. 1528, Nürnberg)

Adam and Eve

Engraving, 252 x 194 mm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

This engraving is one of Dürer's most famous engraved works. It draws on the sum of his four-year study of the ideal proportions of the human body. His interest in the biblical narrative is subordinate to his depiction of Adam and Eve as ideal female and male nudes in imitation of classical sculptures. The elk, hare, cat and ox symbolize the four humours into which the human soul divided after the Fall of Man. The contrasting cat and mouse embody the tense relationship between the genders, the parrot represents Mary as a second Eve and the ibex in the background represents the infidels.

The conscious application for the first time of a set of rules of proportion explains why these figures have a rigid pose, contradictory to the essence of Dürer's concept of nature. The disagreeable impression is compensated only by the mastery of technique. It is certain that the biblical story served the artist only as a pretext for representing the nude, both male and female, based on Apollo Belvedere and on Venus. Nowhere else has Dürer treated the flesh with such caressing care, using much fine dotting in the modeling, and in no previous plate has he used such a variety of textures in the conscious striving for colour.

There are many preparatory and related drawings of Dürer to this engraving.