Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Plaque with Adam and Eve at the Forge
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    This ivory panel was originally part of a box showing scenes from Genesis. However, this plaque goes beyond the standard biblical narrative and shows the couple struggling to survive outside of Paradise. Here, Adam holds a piece of iron on the forge and is in the process of striking it to give it shape. Opposite him, Eve, with her hair covered, kneels close to the fire and works the bellows with both hands. This scene is unusual because it shows the couple sharing the burden instead of laboring in separate domains as the old rhyme described, “when Adam delves and Eve spins.”

    In Byzantine culture, the forge and public life were domains reserved for men. Women were expected to take care of the household and engage in spinning and weaving. The depiction of Eve out and about at the forge undermines expectations about gendered activities and social spheres. But it also emphasizes the idea that Adam and Eve should be viewed as partners who contributed equally to their mutual survival. Here, prosperity is tied to the practice of virtues, such as hard work and cooperation. Another panel from this box which shows Adam and Eve harvesting grain reinforces this idea.

    It is possible that this box was intended to be a wedding gift for a bride. Grooms often gave their betrothed ivory boxes displaying vignettes from the story of Adam and Eve. If so, the teamwork displayed by Adam and Eve in the forge could have served as an ideal model for their marriage. Also, the image of Adam and Eve could have served as a reminder of the difficulties of marriage and the necessity of support for one another in all areas of life.

  • Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art through ArtStor (Images for Academic Publishing Program)
  • Rights: "Reproduction of any kind is prohibited without express written permission in advance from The Metropolitan Museum of Art."
  • Subject (See Also): Adam (Biblical Figure) Byzantium Eve (Biblical Figure) Gifts Ivories Marriage Work
  • Geographic Area: Eastern Mediterranean
  • Century: 10- 11
  • Date: 900- 1100
  • Related Work: See another plaque from the casket depicting Eve and Adam harvesting grain: http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/464019?=&imgNo=0&tabName=related-objects
  • Current Location: New York City, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 17.190.138
  • Original Location: Constantinople
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Sculptures
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Ivory; Gilt; Polychromy; Plaques;
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 6.5/9.9/.5
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Evans, Helen C. and William D. Wixom. The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era A.D. 843-1261. Metropolitan Museum of Art (1997). 234-236.;
    Kalavrezou, Ioli. Byzantine Women and Their World. Harvard University Art Museums (2003). 18-19, 139-141, 148, 215-216.;
    Maguire, Henry. "Magic and Money in the Early Middle Ages." Speculum. 72, 4 (Oct. 1997): 1037-1054;