HANS HOLBEIN THE YOUNGER: Adam and Eve (1517)
I was once stuck on a week-long training course during which I became so desperately bored in the evenings that started reading the Bible someone called Gideon had so thoughtfully left in my hotel room. I wasn’t converted, but I was intrigued by just how short the key passages were. The creation of the Earth, for instance, is done in about a page and a half. Adam and Eve (actually, man and woman – the names were added in later iterations) are around for no more than half a dozen paragraphs, even though their story is absolutely pivotal to Western belief systems. For centuries, artists have interpreted this story, not least because it gave them an opportunity to paint nearly naked anatomy, a chance too good to miss in less permissive times.
Here’s Hans Holbein’s interpretation. Holbein famously painted the ‘too flattering’ portrait that Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves on the strength of. His picture of Adam and Eve, painted over twenty years earlier, pulls no such punches, representing the first man and woman as a somewhat disreputable pair: a swarthy, scruffy bloke with a perm, a stringy moustache and shifty eyes, and a slack jawed, pasty faced child, looking anaemic and inbred, as perhaps befits a person made out of bits of the only ever human being alive. Their collective IQ is probably just nudging triple figures, which probably explains why they have thrown away the chance of eternal life in paradise in exchange for a worm ridden apple. Their hapless expressions perhaps reflect that they are just beginning to realise how much shit they are in.