Goltzius’ Adam and Eve (1613)
The Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, recently bought an unusual panel of Adam in a head-and-shoulder format by Hendrik Goltzius. It is a companion to a similar panel of Eve in Strasbourg. What distinguishes these two "portraits" are the hands which we naturally assume belong to the figure depicted. But, do they? Neither hand is lit quite like the figure behind it and, given the importance in art of the artist's hand, it is possible to imagine each of them as belonging to the artist outside the frame.
Goltzius had, in fact, engraved a print of his own right hand, mangled from a childhood accident some years before. If one compares Adam’s hand to Goltzius’, they both face horizontally across the frame with the unseen arm below. The similarity must have been intentional. It makes sense, after all, that the hawthorn branch represents Goltzius' long, thin paintbrush while also referring symbolically to the wood of Christ's Cross.1 The true artist, by inference, is the Christ in Goltzius, the divinity in his mind. Others have imagined a link between the two hands before without recognizing the meaning. 2
If we now compare Eve’s hand to Goltzius’ rotated to face the same way, the similarity is even more stark. The position of all four fingers, save the missing tip of Goltzius’ forefinger, are identical. The two hands do not belong to Adam and Eve, at least on the poetic level most important to the artist. They “belong” to the artist himself in the studio in the process of painting our first grandparents who, in their figures, unite all mankind.3
Adam and Eve are the iconic man and woman before male-centered Christianity arrived. Eve as the first woman, one nipple facing directly towards the viewer, is also the original symbol of humanity’s creativity. In offering the apple – or perhaps “painting” the apple – the hand of the artist and the hand of Eve are one and the same.
At the deepest level, stripped like Adam and Eve of all pretense and clothing, we are also all the same Self. When our first parents left Eden aware of their nakedness, they fell into consciousness where we are all aware of one another's differences. That is the underlying meaning of Eden before "the Fall". The Church twisted the myth into a symbol of good and evil when it really is an allegory of how in consciousness we think we are all different when, in truth [the Garden of Eden], we are all the same. We share our basic essence with all of Nature too. Everything can be transformed into something else. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes…God recycles us all.
More Works by Goltzius
Don't confuse illusion with likeness in portraits; they are different
Original Publication Date on EPPH: 20 Aug 2011. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.