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The biblical genesis story describes how God ‘male and female he created them’. The challenge of representing the creation of Eve out of Adam’s rib forced the medieval artists to find original solutions regarding the biology and physiology of this process. The attention given to this imagery is justified, since the illustration carried non-verbal theological information. Just as Adam was a type of Christ, Eve was typologically the precursor of Virgin Mary.

According to the Bible, Eve was created out of Adam’s rib. In this miniature, Eve’s unfinished torso is balanced on a stick-like, impossibly large rib removed out of Adam’s body. The first humans are naked and their bodies are specifically marked with primary (breasts, penis) and secondary (beard, smooth body) sex markers, in an obvious dimorphic (masculine/feminine binary) contrast.

Eve perching on a rod-like rib Jacob van Maerlant, Spieghel Historiael (Flanders, c. 1330) The Hague Koninklijke Bibliotheek, MS KA 20 f.4vb

While the first humans only started wearing clothes after eating from the tree of knowledge, the medieval illustrators would sometimes preserve Adam and Eve’s modesty by representing them clothed or, like in this miniature, enveloped in a blanket as Adam sleeps. Eve’s body, although wearing a skirt and head-dress, is still sexed by depiction of breasts.

‘Adam dormiens’ Biblia Sti Petri Rodensis (Catalonia, c.950) Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Latin MS 6 f.6r

Another way of preserving their modesty, as well as explaining visually how Eve was created out of Adam’s rib, was to represent the first humans in more abstract ways. An odd miniature in a popular medieval picture-book depicts Eve’s head germinating at the top of one of Adam’s ribs, with the assumption that the rest of her body will replicate itself in time.

Rib with Eve’s head Speculum humanae salvationis (Czech Republic, 1420) National Library of the Czech Republic, MS III. B. 10 f.2r

While most illumination on the subject of creation has Eve simply standing out of Adam’s back, some iconography presents a fluid, malleable Eve squeezed out of Adam’s body. The secondary creation of Eve was misused by misogynistic commentators to justify women’s subjugation, and to establish the female body as a defective version of the male ideal form.

Ghost-like Eve Historien Bibel (Germany, c1400) Morgan Library MS M.268 f.2v

The unusual creation of Eve from the rib of an earthen Adam nonetheless gave fodder to reappraisals of Eve. Some commentators remarked that she was flesh, therefore superior, while Adam was only clay; others used the first humans’ common origins to rebuke any hierarchy within the genders. Odd depictions of the creation of Eve therefore mattered socially and theologically.

Half-formed animal-balloon Eve Figures de l'Ancien et du Nouveau Testament (France, 1310) Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Français MS 400 f.1r

While images of the creation of Eve visualise the creation of sexual dimorphism, the Bible and the church taught that both men and women were created ‘to his own image’. This illustration in a book of bible commentaries solves this visual problem by depicting Adam and Eve as shadows or copies of each other - as the simultaneously embodied image of God.

Eve as Adam’s double Petrus Lombardus, Sententiae (France, Italy, 1260) Tours, Bibliotheque Municipale, MS 355 f.89r

The one-ness of Adam and Eve (and of woman and man) had a venerable intellectual history, from the Platonic idea of soulmates as one ideal person torn asunder, through the Old/New Testament explanations of marriage and conception, to the (controversial) idea that God must be hermaphrodite if both genders reflect his true image.

Conjoined Adam and Eve St. Ambrose's Hexaemeron (France, 1176-1200) Bibl. Amiens MĂŠtro. MS Lescalopier 30 f.10v

If biologically children are generated from female bodies, the creation of Eve out of Adam’s body complicates this essentialist assumption. This paradox was sometimes visualised in the depictions of Eve emerging from Adam’s body through an opening on his side/belly, whose location is similar to that of contemporary representations of caesarean surgery.

Eve from Adam’s chest/stomach Rudolf von Ems, Weltchronik in Versen (Germany, c.1370) Bavarian Stadtbibliothek, Cgm 5 f.10r

If you want to learn more: Pocket Miscellanies #1: Adam Kraus (1967) Eve and Mary: Conflicting Images of Medieval Woman Flood (2010) Representations of Eve in Antiquity and the English Middle Ages Bloch (1991) Medieval Misogyny Fries (2002) The evolution of Eve in medieval French and English religious drama, Studies in Philology

COVER: Eve standing out of Adam’s back Biblia Pauperum (Germany, 1458) Uni.-bibl. Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. Germ. 438 f.123r


Pocket Miscellanies #2: Eve  

The second volume of the zine Pocket Miscellany, exploring the representations of Eve in late European medieval visual culture. If you want...

Pocket Miscellanies #2: Eve  

The second volume of the zine Pocket Miscellany, exploring the representations of Eve in late European medieval visual culture. If you want...