Expulsion from the Garden of Eden

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Masaccio, Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, 1425

When first viewing Masaccio’s fresco, most people, present and past, would immediately recognize the subjects as Adam and Eve. Expulsion from the Garden of Eden is the first part of a cycle done by Masaccio in 1425 for the Brancacci Chapel in Florence, Italy. Only two of Masaccio’s masterpieces have survived to the current day, a fresco of the Trinity and the series of frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel, although damaged greatly from fire in 1771. Masaccio was praised during his lifetime for his unconventional artistic style; he is remembered for his skills in depicting the natural human form, as seen in Expulsion from the Garden of Eden
The form and movement Adam and Eve are painted with was unprecedented at the time. Painting such sacred characters with such humanistic characteristics was uncommon and unconventional. Masaccio developed his technique to become a master
Imitatore della natura- or imitator of nature. Immediately, the eye is drawn to the pain-stricken faces of Adam and Eve. Adam, aware of his irreversible sin, hides his face in shame while Eve expresses her grief by the pressing of her breast with her hand. The nudity would not have been controversial at the time and widely accepted, although fig leaves were added to cover the genitals nearly three centuries later. The leaves were later removed in the 1980s when the painting underwent a full restoration. Masaccio’s famous use of rilievo, or relief, is also apparent in Adam and Eve’s form. Masaccio uses highlights and shadows to give the bodies depth and dimension. Masaccio creates lifelike movement with contrapposto, which creates movement and fluidity in their forward movement by placing most of their weight on one foot so their shoulders and torso twist from their axis. However it should be noted that while advanced for the time, the dimensions of Adam and Eve’s bodies are disproportionate. Adam’s arms are improperly small and Eve’s left arm is unusually long. Despite the flaws, Masaccio’s depiction of Adam and Eve’s departure beautifully captures the sinners’ despair and movement.

Besides Adam and Eve, there are several additional elements worthy of note. The angel in red, ironically representing charity, banishes the couple from the garden. The sword in the angel’s hand, in addition to the rays of light emitting from the structure on the left, were originally shiny with oxidized silver, but have since turned black. The structure on the left is more symbolic than realistic. There is no mention of a structure at the exit of Eden in the bible. However, it allowed Masaccio to experiment with perspective and architectural dimension. Additionally, Adam and Eve are nude, despite the bible saying that they had clothed themselves. Despite the discrepancies between the bible and the fresco, the image would still immediately recognized by patrons of the church. While Expulsion from the Garden of Eden shows to a largely illiterate viewership a pivotal story of the Christian faith, the image conveys the same emotion and narrative centuries later.

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