PICTURES OF THE BIBLE  © Serge Ceruti and Gérard  Dufour 2008






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Adam and Eve; Lucas CRANACH the Elder; 1553; oil on wood; Staatliches Museum, Berlin.

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The temptation is undoubtedly the most famous biblical scene; Eve, advised by the serpent, gives a fruit to Adam.

The man and the woman are naked. Both are beautiful and this is a good way to see the rules of beauty at the time when the scene was painted.

Adam often has curly hair and a dark skin, Eve is rather blond and white-skinned. This difference has nothing to do with any racial vision; it only means that a distinguished woman protects her beauty from the sun.

The serpent takes varied sizes and shapes, even becoming a big lizard; its head can be that of a more or less monstrous beast or, on the contrary, that of a pretty girl. The latter image refers to Eve as if the temptation were a dialogue with herself. The same idea is suggested by a serpent holding out a mirror to the woman.

Paradise is in the background; it is a luxuriant garden with “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” on the side. The nature of the fruit on the tree is not indicated in the Hebrew text. They are apples in the Greek tradition; sometimes a death’s head is to be found in the tree to signal the danger.


Differentiating details




The Angel of the divine Presence clothing Adam and Eve with Skins; William BLAKE; 1803 watercolour; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England.




Adam and Eve clothed by God and expelled from Paradise by an Angel: illustrator of the “Bible Historiale”; 1372; miniature; manuscript MMW 10 B 23; Meermanno Museum, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague.


Full of shame, Adam and Eve hide themselves. They sometimes hide their faces as a sign of shame and always hide their nakedness, not with a vine-leaf as is usually said, but with a fig-leaf. Sometimes God gives them or even makes them clothes.



The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden; MASACCIO; 1426-27; fresco; Cappela Brancacci, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, Italy

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Adam and Eve are expelled from the earthly paradise. It is God or his angel who expels them and curses them; they get into a barren area.


The Work of the Ancestors; Andrea PISANO; 1336-43; marble; Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence

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Adam and Eve start to work; he carries a spade, she holds a distaff. Adam ploughs the ground “by the sweat of his brow”; Eve spins or feeds her child at the breast.


Ordinary life begins.





Adam and Eve; Lucas CRANACH the Elder; 1553; oil on wood; Staatliches Museum, Berlin.

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The Book of Genesis, chapter 3

In the Garden of Eden, the tree of Life and that “of the knowledge of good and evil” can be found. God has forbidden man to eat from the latter at the risk of dying.

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field… And the serpent said to the woman: God knows that in the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be like gods, knowing good and evil. And the woman took a fruit from it, and ate, and also gave it to her husband with her; and he ate. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. (Genesis 3:1-7)

God calls the man but the latter is in hiding. When God reproaches him with eating from the forbidden tree, the man accuses the woman and she accuses the serpent… God curses the man and the woman.

To the woman he said: I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in sorrow you shall bring forth children;  And to Adam he said: …In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread… Therefore the LORD God sent him out of the Garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. (Genesis 3:16-23)




In this very vivid narrative, the Bible accounts for human condition with its sufferings and its pains. This condition is not original; it is the result of man’s disobedience, of his sin. The man and the woman wanted to be ‘as gods”, that is to say they refused to depend on the One who created them.







Adam and Eve; Lucas CRANACH the Elder; 1553; oil on wood; Staatliches Museum, Berlin.

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Adam and Eve are amidst luxuriant Nature where everything is harmonious, except the monstrous serpent.



Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; Jan BRUEGHEL the Elder; 1615; oil on copper; Royal Collection, London.

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The Summer, or Ruth and Boaz; Nicolas POUSSIN; 1660-64; oil on canvas; Musée du Louvre, Paris.

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The serpent becomes a monster in Goes whereas Masolino sees it as Eve’s double.


The Fall; Hugo van Goes; 1467; oil on oak; left part of a diptych “the Temptation and the Fall”; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.

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The Temptation; MASOLINO da Panicale; 1426; fresco; Cappella Brancacci, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence

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Two more serpents with human faces: the head of a woman or that of a demon-king. It can be noted that the miniature has Adam pluck the fruit.


Adam and Eve; RAPHAEL; 1510; fresco; Chamber of the Signature; Vatican Palace.

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Eve persuades Adam to take a fruit; illustrator of “Speculum humanae salvationi”s; c; 1400-1500; Manuscript MMW 10 C 23; Museum Meermanno Westreenianum, The Hague



The temptation insinuates itself into an amorous dialogue.


Adam and Eve; Jan GOSSAERT; 1525; oil on wood; Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.

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The Temptation of Adam; Jacopo TINTORETTO; c. 1550; oil on canvas; Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice

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Two 20th century pictures: Chagall’s dynamism against Ratner’s cold analysis.



Adam and Eve and the forbidden Fruit; Marc CHAGALL; 1960 lithograph.





The Garden of Eden; Philip RATNER; Israel Bible Museum, Safad.

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Adam and Eve; Lucas CRANACH the Elder; 1553; oil on wood; Staatliches Museum, Berlin.

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The apple and sin

Adam and Eve’s disobedience has given rise to many interpretations.

The name of Original Sin  is not in the biblical text; it was popularized by St Augustine in the 5th century. According to him, the disobedience is due to pride and sensuality. That is why many give a sexual meaning to this disobedience and the phrase “to bite the apple” has become “to have sex”. This also explains the constant use of Eve, the serpent and the apple to make advertising messages more attractive.


The Apple Company uses a bitten apple without any explicitly erotic contents. It rather evokes knowledge conquered in spite of everything.


Eve tempts Adam and the man immediately rejects full responsibility on his wife. Adam did not want to eat the apple; he could not swallow it, hence the name “Adam’s apple” given to the larynx, that is protuberant in male adults.



It is the apple that is the source of discord.

In Greek mythology too, Paris must give a golden apple to the most beautiful goddess and he must choose between Aphrodite-Venus, Athena-Minerva and Hera-Juno. The fruit given to Venus brings about the anger of the other goddesses and the War of Troy… The temptress is a permanent theme in all misogynist texts; the story of Genesis is only one of them.

The Judgment of Paris;
Peter Paul RUBENS; c. 1639; oil on canvas; Museo del Prado, Madrid



The earthly Paradise, or Eden, is lost and men long for it.

In the Renaissance, great navigators thought they had found it in the newly discovered continents that became as many “Eldorados”. Nowadays, many films and novels find this paradise in other worlds or galaxies.

But the quest can also be projected into a future: a new world in which work will no longer be hard, where peace will prevail, where man will be reconciled with nature… This quest has given birth to small communities, to sects but also to great revolutionary movements.





BIBLE PICTURES   © Serge Ceruti and Gérard  Dufour 2008