The body of eve in Andrea Pisano's Creation relief.

Author:Greenstein, Jack M.
Position:The Creation of Eve - Report

Few themes are so fraught with social, moral, and political significance as the Creation. To this day, the Genesis stories of God creating man and woman are read, and misread, by the faithful as confirming the positions of their church about personal behavior and proper social order. Little surprise, then, that the history of Creation exegesis and iconography is often mined by scholars to reveal the fundamental attitudes and ideologies of past societies.

As members of their society and church, Renaissance artists shared the fundamental attitudes and beliefs of their contemporaries. But these "professional visualizer[s] of the holy stories" also had artistic commitments regarding style technique, and expressive means, which most other interpreters of Genesis did not share. (1) These commitments conditioned not only the manner in which they worked but also the way that they read the biblical texts, interpreted the earlier images, and understood the world that they depicted.

Naturalistically rendered human figures were the primary expressive vehicle of Italian Renaissance art. In addition to the sensuous appeal of corporeal beauty, they gave art much of its meaning. Artists fashioned the outer appearance of the human body to serve as an index for what was going on within. The narrative subject, or istoria, of painting was composed of bodies that moved among themselves and with regard to the viewer both to perform the matter at hand and to display how the figures felt about it. In sculpture, the virtu, or strength of character, of notable and holy personages was embodied in statues with an upright, contrapposto stance, which made visible the work of the muscles arranging the limbs to hold the body erect, even when it was cloaked with drapery. This conception of the human body as a vehicle for showing more than met the eye was summarized in the most common tenet of Renaissance art: the movements of the body express the movements of the soul.

The Creation of Eve presented a special challenge to this Renaissance conception of artistic expression. The standard medieval iconography of Eve rising weightlessly from Adam's side, half formed but living and moving as if fully made, was hardly compatible with the Renaissance commitment to the naturalistic representation of the human body. Yet, the biblical story of God constructing the first woman from a rib extracted from Adam's side, which this iconography suppressed, did not offer the kind of affective and significant narrative istoria that Renaissance artists and viewers prized. For, as John Calvin conceded, without providential interpretation, "this method of forming woman may seem ridiculous, and ... that Moses is dealing in fables." (2)

The Creation of Eve by Andrea Pisano (ca. 1295-1348/9) is an early example of how this challenge was met. A hexagonal marble panel from the campanile of Florence Cathedral, it is now exhibited in the beautifully remodeled Museo dell' Opera del Duomo, where the opportunity to inspect its recently cleaned surface at close range partly compensates for its poor state of preservation. (3) Carved and installed during the tenure of Giotto di Bondone (1267/75-1337) as capomaestro of the campanile project, 1334-37, it had been set well above eye level in the lowest register of the main, west facade of the bell tower, where it was second from the north in a row of seven historiated panels, next to the Creation of Adam. (4) The panels to the south were not the usual scenes of the Fall and Expulsion, but Adam and Eve at Work and then four of their descendants: Jabal, the first shepherd; Jubal, the first musician; Tubalcain, the first blacksmith; and Noah, the first winemaker. (5) The cycle was continued on the other facades with hexagonal panels of--as Lorenzo Ghiberti put it--"the discoverers of the arts": (6) Gionitus, the first astronomer; Building; Medicine, Hunting; Weaving; Phoroneus, the inventor of law; and Daedalus, the inventor of flight, on the south face; then, on the east face, Navigation or Commerce, Hercules, the bringer of civilization; Agriculture; Theatrics; and Architecture; and finally, on the north face, Sculpture and Painting. This cycle of the mechanical, practical, and civil arts was complemented in the register above by diamond-shaped panels of the Planets, Virtues, Liberal Arts, and Sacraments.

There is no contemporary record naming the sculptor of the Creation of Eve of the other six hexagonal panels on the west facade. Early sources state that Giotto, "the most sovereign master in painting of his time," was designer of the tower, and also indicate that Pisano, the sculptor of the bronze doors (1330-36) of the Baptistery across the street from the campanile, succeeded Giotto as capomaestro, corrected structural flaws in the sections of the tower built by Giotto, and revised his design for the upper stories. (7) In his Commentarii of about 1447, Ghiberti ascribed both the design and the carving of the " the first two reliefs [istorie]" on the campanile, but only these two, to Giotto, "inventor and discoverer of so much doctrine, that had been buried since around the year 600," the artist who, in his view, "brought about the new art, [and] left behind the coarseness of the Greeks. ... Giotto saw what others did not add to art. He brought about the natural art and the gracefulness [of art] with it." (8) After describing Giotto's works in painting and mosaic, he explained that the first campanile panels dedmonstrated that Giotto was also mot expert in sculpture, for "in my age I saw the measures [provvedimenti] of his hand in the aforesaid most excellently designed reliefs [istorie]." (9)

Although the Creation reliefs are widely recognized as among the best and most naturalistic of the campanile cycle, modern scholars discount Ghiberti's attribution of them to Giotto. Giotto, it is pointed out, was not a sculptor; Pisano's revisions to the former's design for the lower included greatly expanding the sculptural program, which was not completed until the early quattrocento; and the Creation reliefs are stylistically congruous with reliefs that were designed, carved, and installed by Pisano after Giotto's death. (10) For these reasons, there is wide agreement, despite Ghiberti's attribution, that the Creation panels were carved by Pisano, working under Giotto's supervision and, according to some, after his designs. (11)

Since the fundamental study by Julius von Schlosser in 1896, the campanile cycle has been interpreted as an encyclopedic compendium of the productive activities needed to maintain society and improve human life in the postlapsarian world. (12) Schlosser cited the panegyric by the twelfth-century German monk Theophilus, as indicative of the positive reassessment of the arts that began in the twelfth century and continued into the Renaissance. Wolfgang Braunfels's dazzling account of the urban artistic context in which the program was developed is no longer accepted, but there is no doubt that the program expressed the values and pride of the Italian city-state. (13) Marvin Trachtenberg explained that the highly unusual omission of the Fall and the Expulsion, two subjects crucial to the story of salvation, marked the work of Adam and Eve and the arts invented by their descendants as the first creative activities of human beings, rather than as the consequences of sin. (14) Subsequent scholarship refined and extended these fundamental interpretations, especially by clarifying how the program accorded the productive arts a role in human salvation. (15)

Given the lack of firm documentation and the imprecision of the early sources, it is not surprising that most visual analyses of the Creation of Eve panel are devoted to questions of style and attribution. Of special note in the present context is the wide appreciation for the highly naturalistic treatment of the bodies and landscape, which, it is said, set a new standard in relief sculpture of the time. (16) Nor is it surprising that the iconographic analyses have centered on the program as a whole, since the composition of the Creation of Eve panel follows a well-established pictorial formula. As is common in the history of art, moreover, style and iconography are treated separately from one another, as if each were a distinct and autonomous matter for analysis. (17)

The separation of style and iconography is especially unfortunate for the study of Renaissance Creation imagery. Art is naturalistic to the degree that things are depicted in accordance with what their nature is or is thought to be. Since the Creation story was, for the religious, an account of how God made natural things as he intended them to be, the naturalistic treatment of Eve's body at her creation was of direct relevance to the subject. In the campanile relief, Eve was rendered in accordance with Aristotelian theories about the natural relation of body and soul, which were then current in theological interpretations of the Creation and were later the basis for the Renaissance theory of naturalistic art. The introduction of this naturalistic body necessitated subtle revisions to the traditional iconographic formula, which was not developed to accommodate a naturalistically rendered Eve. These subtle revisions call to mind the kind of "pictorial intelligence" displayed in some of Giotto's works. (18) It is not my intention, however, to reopen the question of attribution or to enter the controversies over Giotto's role in the design. Since the features discussed here pertain to the style of execution as well as the design, the artist of the panel will be called Andrea Pisano, the sculptor whom scholars agree executed it. The present analysis centers on the close connection between style and meaning in the campanile panel: how Eve is characterized through the naturalistic treatment of her body and what it reveals about art, the understanding of the subject, the civic program of the...

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