For today’s advent offering, something a little different. I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Copenhagen recently and one of the highlights of my visit was a trip to the Carlsberg Glypotek art museum. This museum has the most amazing collection of 19th and 20th Century European art and sculpture, including many works by Scandinavian artists. The sculpture galleries especially took my breath away, but one particular work really caught my eye: Paradise Lost by 19th Century painter and sculptor Jean Gautherin. The sculpture presents us with a depiction of Adam and Eve post-Fall, a common enough motif for artists throughout the centuries. Yet what is different about this art work is the dynamic we observe between the two subjects. In the biblical tradition of Genesis 3, once the couple’s act of disobedience is discovered by God, Adam’s initial response is to blame his female partner: ‘The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”‘ (3:12). There is no sense of shared responsibility, and the author leaves unspoken the emotions and reactions of the couple after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. This missing element to the story is the focus on Gautherin’s work and he explores it in what I think is a fascinating way.
Adam and Eve sit together, lost in a moment of bewilderment. Eve’s face is engraved with pain, disbelief, and slack-jawed regret. She stares ahead of her, as though not quite sure what has just happened, unable to fully understand the immensity of the deity’s response to their fruity disobedience. Perhaps, as the biblical tradition may itself hint at, she feels the more responsible of the two for the catastrophe that has just occurred. Perhaps she’s playing back in her mind that conversation with the snake, that fatal bite, that divine response, wondering why she acted as she did and, even more tragically, what might have been had she not. Regret is the bitterest of pills to swallow. Adam, meanwhile, appears to show an emotional side of him that we just don’t hear in the biblical tradition. His arms gently circling his devastated partner, he shows only care and concern for her. His eyes resting upon her, he seems to be focused only on her grief, rather than his own sense of loss. God is nowhere in this sculpture, just his two creatures, left alone, East of Eden, to experience for the first time the human curses of regret, loss, and grief, but perhaps also to share for the first time those immensely precious gifts of consolation, empathy and concern for the Other.