Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Fragment of a Floor Mosaic: Adam and Eve
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    Eve and Adam stand before us in the Garden of Eden in the moments following humankind's original sin. Having both eaten from the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge, they now each clutch the apple and, out of shame, hold fig leaves over their genitals. They are naked and vulnerable in their new-found awareness of sexuality and sin. Their curly hair and rosy cheeks suggest youth and vitality. There is also an echo of the antique nude in the representation of Eve's rounded breasts and Adam's lean torso. The inscription in Greek above their heads reminds viewers of their transgression in Genesis: "And they ate and they realized they were naked."

    Earlier Christian theological traditions in the Greek world, as represented by the Life of Adam and Eve, viewed Eve in conflicting roles. She was openly sexual and undermined male authority but at the same time was religiously devout and a caring mother. Arbel suggests that Eve embodied both the "good woman" and "bad woman" paradigms for pastoral purposes. In determining where fault should be assigned for humankind's fall, some Greek theologians saw Adam as more culpable than Eve either because of his greater responsibility, or in the case of Pseudo-Anastasius, because Eve resisted the blandishments of the Serpent far more than Adam who blindly followed his wife's lead without question.

    It is believed that this mosaic comes from a church in northern Syria and was part of a larger decorated pavement that represented the Garden of Eden. The Cleveland Museum of Art has three other fragments that belong to the work: Grape harvester with peacock; Ibex near a tree; and Ram near a tree (see below for links to the images). Liz James has characterized mosaics at this time as an artwork that conveyed prestige and wealth. Patrons and ecclesiastical officials were eager to install them in churches even in smaller towns. Furthermore, mosaics had become deeply connected to the Christian faith and to the Roman empire, conveying a universal message which joined together peoples from Visigoths in the West to Greeks in the East.

  • Source: The Cleveland Museum of Art
  • Rights: Low resolution thumbnail reproduced with the permission of the Cleveland Museum of Art. All text and images published in www.clevelandart.org are for personal use only. Any commercial use or publication is strictly prohibited.
  • Subject (See Also): Adam (Biblical Figure) Body Eve (Biblical Figure) Fall of Humankind Gender Mosaics Nude in Art
  • Geographic Area: Eastern Mediterranean
  • Century: 5- 6
  • Date: Late 400s - early 500s
  • Related Work: Grape harvester with peacock. Likely part of the same floor mosaic as that of the Adam and Eve fragment.
    Ibex near a Tree. Likely part of the same floor mosaic as that of the Adam and Eve fragment.
    Ram near a tree. Also likely part of the same floor mosaic as that of the Adam and Eve fragment.
  • Current Location: Cleveland, Ohio, The Cleveland Museum of Art, John L. Severance Fund, 1969.115
  • Original Location: Church in Syria
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Mosaics
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Marble; Stone tesserae
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 142.9 /107.3/
  • Inscription: Κ ΕΦΑΓΟΝ ΕΓΥΜΝΟΘΗ… ["and they eat they were made naked"]
  • Related Resources: Arbel, Vita Daphna. Forming Femininity in Antiquity: Eve, Gender, and Ideologies in the Greek Life of Adam and Eve. Oxford University Press, 2012;
    Gertsman, Elina, and Barbara H. Rosenwein. "Adam and Eve, Fragment of a Floor Mosaic." In The Middle Ages in 50 Objects. Cambridge University Press, 2018. Pages 56-59;
    Harrison, Nonna Verna. "Eve, the Mother of God, and Other Women." Ecumenical Review 60, 1-2 (2008): 71-81;
    James, Liz. Mosaics in the Medieval World: From Late Antiquity to the Fifteenth Century. Cambridge University Press, 2017;
    Meyer, Mati. "Eve's Nudity: A Sign of Shame or Precursor of Christological Economy?" In Between Judaism and Christianity: Art Historical Essays in Honor of Elisheva (Elisabeth) Revel Neher. Edited by Katrin Kogman-Appel and Mati Meyer. Brill, 2009. Pages 241-258.