The Fall of Man (Adam and Eve)

Dürer, Albrecht

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Engraving

Annotated by:
Winkler, Mary
  • Date of entry: Mar-03-1997
  • Last revised: Jul-13-2007


This engraving shows Adam and Eve at the moment in which Eve accepts the fruit from the serpent. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil bisects the plate, separating the figures of idealized male and female. At the bottom of the picture a cat and a mouse crouch. They are in harmony with each other, but the tension in the poses suggests their future enmity: once Adam and Eve eat the fruit, the harmony of nature will be lost. Other animals (a hare, a goat, an ox) act both as subjects of the animal kingdom and symbols of the balance of humors.


Adam and Eve are examples of a humanist conception of the body. They are endowed with autonomy and dignity, and their forms reflect Dürer's ideal of beauty. The scene is Dürer's interpretation of the Genesis story of Adam and Eve's rebellion and fall from their created perfection.

According to St. Augustine, this rebellion--signified in the eating of the forbidden fruit--resulted in the hereditary curse on humankind (Original Sin), manifesting itself in sin (especially lust), aging, sickness and death. Before the fall, man and woman were in harmony with each other, and all nature peaceful and without threat.

Dürer's choice of the moment of the Fall allows him to foretell the loss, while experimenting with his ideal of physical perfection. This experiment fits with his scientific interests in measurement, mathematics, and proportion. An interesting paradox is present in the engraving. Although Adam and Eve should not yet feel sexual shame, Dürer modestly positions them behind leafy branches which cover their genitalia.


Dated 1504.

Primary Source

Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin