Dürer, Adam and Eve, 1504, engraving
The Adam and Eve print shows Dürer’s avid interest in Italian Renaissance art. He traveled to Italy twice, first in
1494, then again in 1505 just after he made the print. Dürer probably intended to market the print in Italy because
the inscription on the tablet above Adam’s shoulder identifies him as a northerner. Adam’s body is nude and
muscular and has ideal proportions—it is derived from the Apollo Belvedere, which Dürer probably saw copies of on
his first trip to Italy. Eve is also shown in a way that Dürer must have felt was classical, although her thick torso is
closer to the body types of women in Venetian paintings than those in classical pieces.
Dürer’s northern background comes through in the carefully recorded details of the trees and animals. Each of the
animals has a symbolic meaning: the parrot represents wisdom, and the cat, rabbit, ox, and stag represent the four
humors (body fluids) that were thought to define personality. For example, the cat represents the choleric (angry)
person whose physiology is dominated by yellow bile. Similarly, rabbits are sanguine (happy, with blood
dominating), oxen are phlegmatic (lethargic, with phlegm dominating), and stags are melancholic (withdrawn or
thoughtful, with black bile dominating). According to Renaissance medicine, perfect health occurs when the humors
are in balance—just as the animals were all in harmony in Paradise before Adam took the forbidden fruit.
In 1517, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses against abuses in the Catholic Church and the papacy. This act
of defiance marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, although discontent with the Catholic Church had
been mounting for years. Germany was torn by the Reformation, with many of the cities turning to Luther’s ideas
only after much soul-searching and conflict. Dürer was caught up in this conflict; his early work was often done with
a Catholic audience in mind (he was not very devout himself then); after 1517 he became convinced of Luther’s ideas
and several of his paintings and prints show his Lutheran sympathies. The Reformation had a decisive effect on art
in northern Europe. Those areas that remained Catholic continued to commission large-scale religious sculpture and
painted altarpieces. But in Protestant areas, a wave of iconoclasm led to the destruction of images, which the
reformers felt led to idolatry and misuse by the common people. Smaller religious images, especially works that told
biblical stories, were more acceptable, because uneducated people would not mistakenly pray to such images. With
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