empowering women artists - Montreal based

Eve, the original bad girl : a complexe Archetype in Art

Posted by Camille Cazin on

As part of the exhibition EVE IN APPLE GARDEN, we wanted to explain to you our fascination with Eve, the first FATAL woman ... if we stick to Christian history.


This article traces the story of the Myth of Eve, its own genesis in a way. He also explains how the power of art was used to spread messages that women still endure the consequences of.


From the Garden of Eden to 'Killing Eve': deconstructing the first woman in art

by Lydia Figes, Content Creator at Art UK


According to the creation story in the Book of Genesis, the first woman – Eve – was responsible for the 'fall of man' and killing our mortal souls when she ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Because of her bad (and rather fruity) behaviour, Eve is one of the most painted women in western art history. She is a complicated archetype who represents desire, shame and original sin. Her story is deeply rooted in the psyche of western civilisation and art history. Let's reassess the complex figure of Eve – the original bad girl.

Firstly, let's take a look at whether the symbolic figure of Eve originated in the biblical creation story.

Did you know that the allegory existed before the time the Hebrew Bible was written down.

Evidence suggests that the Adam and Eve story derived from ancient Babylon and Mesopotamian mythology. In ancient Mesopotamia, the goddess Ninti, whose name means 'lady of the rib', was created by the mother goddess Ninhursag to heal Enki's sick rib (the god of Water). When Enki ate the forbidden flowers, he was cursed by Ninhursag for his disobedience.

This ancient legend clearly influenced the creation story in Genesis, in which God creates Eve from Adam's rib. However, the gender roles are reversed in pre-biblical versions of the allegory.

The figure of Eve cam also be connected to dozens of other prehistoric and pagan goddesses dating back to the Bronze Age, including the Hurrian goddess Khepat, the Semitic mother-goddess Asherah, and even the ancient Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite.

Like Eve, Aphrodite has often been depicted with an apple in her hand. In Greek myth, the story of the Judgement of Paris sees the Trojan prince Paris gift Aphrodite the golden apple.

For centuries, artists have offered their own interpretations of the story. But according to Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve, it was only during the Renaissance era when new modes of representation and technology succeeded in propagating the creation myth, bringing the story to life.


Photo credit: The British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Adam and Eve

1504, engraving by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528)


One of the most famous portrayals of Adam and Eve is by the Renaissance German printmaker Albrecht Dürer, whose engraving was created in 1504. Dürer's depiction quickly circulated around Europe thanks to the new medium of printing – the copperplate engraving he used could be reproduced many times over. Thousands of people in sixteenth-century Europe would have seen Dürer's powerful image and believed they were witnessing the true likenesses of the first man and woman.

How has the archetype of Eve come to represent womanhood?

Beyond the Biblical creation story, the figure of Eve in the popular imagination is the source  of many female protagonists, both historical and fictional – from Jezebel and Medea to Pandora, Delilah and Salome. All of these well-known, 'badly behaved' women have consistently reappeared in western art history and literature. Such negative stereotypes surrounding images of womanhood arguably contributed to the persecution of 'witches', particularly in medieval and Renaissance Europe.

Like Eve, who was interpreted as a seductress who harnassed her sexuality to gain power over Adam, other negative female stereotypes often conflate sin with sexuality. By the 1880s, the literary device and symbol of the 'femme fatale' was commonly used to denote a sex-crazed, seductive yet dangerous woman.

Why do the creation myth and the figure of Eve continue to fascinate us?

Eve's story has had a more profoundly negative impact on women than any other mythological or Biblical story. For centuries, the creation story was used by the Church, and Christian society as a whole, to justify patriarchal attitudes and the subjugation of women.

Yet, the irony is that Eve is a contradiction. How can she be intentionally wicked, but also gullible, dim-witted and weak-willed all at the same time? Nevertheless, the everlasting, symbolic power of Eve continues to saturate contemporary popular culture. If you are watching Good Omens, based on the Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett novel, you will notice that Adam and Eve are portrayed as black characters. This perhaps relates to the theory of the 'Mitochondrial Eve' – the first woman who could be a common ancestor to everyone would have been from Africa, and therefore black, rather than white, as she has been depicted throughout western art history.

As regards the future of Eve in art, the ball is firmly in the artists' court...

if you want to see how we try to redefine the Eve myth, come and visit us at Eve in the apple garden 

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