Art Through Time: A Global View
The Body Art: Adam and Eve Banished from Paradise
Masaccio’s Adam and Eve Banished from Paradise, executed around 1427, is one of a series of frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence.
Located on one side of the entrance arch to the chapel, Masaccio’s Banishment depicts a hovering angel driving Adam and Eve from the gates of Paradise into a barren world. The calm countenance of the angel contrasts with the emotional anguish displayed by the fleeing Adam and Eve. Adam hides his eyes behind clutched hands, his mouth appears contorted, and his body contracts even as he strides forward into the unknown. Even though Eve’s gesture of hiding her genitals and breasts in shame is based on the classical sculpture of the Venus pudica, her strained eyes and open mouth convey a sense of real human suffering.
The painting demonstrates a new kind of naturalistic figural representation that was developing in contemporary sculpture, but had no precedent in painting. As Masaccio precisely renders the psychological turmoil of his figures, he also depicts their bodies with incredible delicacy, playing with light and shadow to reveal the contours of their forms.
Masaccio’s work represents the moment when Adam and Eve, having disobeyed God by tasting fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, lose their innocence, becoming suddenly aware of their naked bodies. Eve’s attempt to cover herself emphasizes her culpability in the Fall, while Adam conceals his emotional reaction, rather than his exposed body. During the conservative Counter-Reformation in Italy (ca. 1670), both figures were deemed inappropriate and their genitals were painted over with leafy branches. In the 1980s, during an extensive restoration, the frescoes were returned to their original state.
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