History of Art and Architecture

The Moment of the Fall in Renaissance Art - Lecture

Thursday, November 17, 2016 - 4:00pm

202 Frick Fine Arts Building

For most of history, humans expressed ethical ideas in the form of stories, and of all these the story of Adam and Eve has been perhaps the most powerful and enduring.  For almost three thousand years, in the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim worlds, people practiced ethical reasoning through the seedpod of this—even to early audiences—unreasonable tale: the first man, formed by God at the culmination of the world’s creation and followed soon by the first woman, disobeys his creator by eating a forbidden fruit, is punished by sickness, hardship, and death, and passes his curse to the entire future human species.  During the Renaissance, this story tested the mettle of visual artists through the aesthetic and ethical challenge it posed by the nude, and because of the tale’s time-bound core:  the irreversible leap from innocence to guilt.  Working in a medium in which time and cause are difficult to capture, artists engineered images that ambitiously tangle “before” and “after” into a single moment. This lecture explores works by Hieronymus Bosch, Albrecht Dürer, Hans Baldung Grien and others as powerful and sometimes dangerous prompts for ethical reasoning.

Reception in the Cloister to follow.