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The iconography of Adam in late medieval art is as varied as imaginative. Non-Biblical stories about the first humans (apocrypha) expanded on the existing accounts, and Adam often figures as a precursor of Christ incarnate, since he was originally created as an image of the face of god. Some iconography of creation of Adam collected in this miscellany is widespread in medieval manuscripts, while others are unusual or even unique


While the medieval standard image of God the Father is of an older, bearded man, often God the Creator of humans is depicted as an adult male resembling classic depictions of Christ. The newlycreated Adam, moulded in God’s ‘image and likeness’, is depicted in this unusual miniature as literally mirroring the face of God.

Adam as God’s image Bible (France c.1260) Arles, Bibliotheque municipale MS 1, f.4v


According to Genesis, Adam was created by God out of ‘the dust of the ground’ after God has already created Earth. This is another unusual image where Adam emerges, half-formed, from the earth, already vital and energetic. The cover image features another variation of this image where God pulls Adam out of dust, alreadyformed rather than moulded by God’s hands.

Adam emerging from the earth Book of Hours (France, end 15c) Amiens, Bibliotheque Municipale MS 107 f.2v


Often, Adam is created as a statue out of dust or clay (from Adamah = earth), immobile and soul-less before being inspired with life. Some medieval apocryphal stories elaborate on the time before Adam’s lifeless body was inspired with God’s ‘breath of life’, for up to 500 years. In this miniature God leans over an earthen Adam the same colour as the ground.

God in-spiring a still-earthen Adam Grande Bible Historiale (France, 1372) Hague, Museum Meermano-Westreenianum MS 10.B.23 f.9r


Nonetheless, God created Adam from dust as an image of himself, so Adam’s body is most often made out of muscles and skin. Afterwards, God ‘breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul.’ Since spirit or soul are hard to represent visually, medieval illuminators configured it as a stream of breath flowing from God’s to Adam’s mouth.

God blows spirit into Adam’s body Bartholomaeus Anglicus (France, c.1390) Bibl. Sainte-Geneviève MS 1028 f.34v


Some illumination can portray creation of humans by God as a very tender moment. In this unusual miniature, a youthful God gently carries in his arms an Adam that looks like a smaller copy of himself. The naked newly-created Adam is wrapped in God’s own cloak, revealing the care and love God put into his fragile and vulnerable creation.

God carrying the new-created Adam Oscott Psalter (England, 1270) British Library, Add. 50000 f. 9v


Other times, Adam’s body is golem-like and God’s treatment of it is like that of a toy. Creation of humankind can look more like a manufacture process than like a careful labour of love. In this English bible, God inspects the quality of his handiwork by bending Adam’s limbs, before endowing the earthen body that mirrors his own with the breath of life.

God testing Adam’s joints before inspiration Bible (England, c1235) Angers, Bibliotheque Municipale MS 9, f.79v


Depictions of the process of building the first humans were as varied as creative methods were. God is a sculptor in clay, a selfportraitist, a carver, a midwife, an automaton builder. In the illustration to the word Anima in the English encyclopaedia Omne Bonum depicts God creating Adam’s soul from stone, using a compass like that used by carpenters, architects or mathematicians.

Anima (soul) fabricated from earth James le Palmer, Omne Bonum (England, c. 1375) British Library, Royal 6 E VI f.94v


As a culmination of the creation process, ‘the Lord God took man, and put him into the paradise of pleasure… to keep it’. Text and image represent god as the first puppeteer, without the negative connotations that this idea has nowadays. The medieval church would occasionally criticise puppet entertainers for violating God’s privilege of animating lifeless bodies.

Puppet-like Adam as the crown of creation Psalter (Germany, c.1250) Badische Landesbibliothek, Lichtenthal 25 f.8v


If you want to learn more: Murdoch (2009) Apocryphal Adam and Eve in Medieval Europe Murdoch (2000) Adam's Grace: Fall and Redemption in Medieval Literature Jolly (1997) Made in God's Image? Eve and Adam in the Genesis Mosaics Ladner (1965) Ad Imaginem Dei: The Image of Man in Medieval Art

COVER: Adam made out of earth Book of Hours (France 1480-1485) Besanรงon Bibl. Mun. MS 148 f. 15


#1

Pocket Miscellanies #1: Adam  

The first ever online published Pocket Miscellany, exploring the representations of Adam in late European medieval visual culture. If you wa...

Pocket Miscellanies #1: Adam  

The first ever online published Pocket Miscellany, exploring the representations of Adam in late European medieval visual culture. If you wa...

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