I took some time at my a-levels looking at the apple of discord – that is the sin of the world, embodied in the skin of a fallen apple, in art. At that time, I was of course fascinated in the arts, but far from an art historian. This week, I’ve seen a painting that speaks of great clarity of a history of women. And it comes in the form of works I am constantly revelling in at the moment, the pre-Raphaelite, and surrounding schools, as seen in the stunning lady of John Collier’s painting that I spoke about in Women – Female Virtue, and is in Last Summer Things Were Greener, at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, by John Byam Liston Shaw.
Eve Overcome by Remorse was exhibited by the American artist Anna Lea Merritt at the Royal Academy in 1885. The painting echoes Rubens’ The Judgement of Paris (pictured.) From the sensual, soft painterly touch to skin of the three beautiful Greco-Romans that Paris must chose between; the palette selection, and the treatment of the natural world. According to this tale, the golden apple that Paris holds is an allegory for discord – the disruption to harmony caused by the competition and jealously introduced at Paris’ decision. Like the disruption to peaceful and perfect bliss in the Garden of Eden when the fall occurs.
If Eve is womankind than I believe it is of great testament that it is a female artist who grasps the emotional burden of Eve. It’s been a significant part of discussion in our seminars - the extent in which male and female are depicted differently according to the gender of the artist. The point of Eve in the story of creation is that she is blamed for giving into temptation, and then she follows the serpent’s suggestion and becomes the temptress to Adam. And so, depicted throughout art history, we can relate how men’s [comparative] strength is flaunted. Yet, we all know that Eve’s giving into the bittersweet treat was no more intentional than Adam’s latter feast. And this is what so many depictions of the scene lack.
Remorse, regret, self-assigned shame. Eve is a woman who is self-aware (the Biblical passage tells us this is the impact of fall) – she is not proud in the knowledge of what she has done. She shields her body and her face, curls up in a protective foetus; the apple in anger has been tossed aside, out of reach and sight - rejected.
This again is an image of virtue, for although it doesn’t appear so on outer appearances; Eve is a woman who knows what is wrong and right and will not stand emotionless when she is in the knowledge of her sin.
Pictured left: ‘Ever Overcome By Remorse’ 1885, Anna Lea Merritt
Right: ‘The Judgement of Paris’ 1632-5, by Peter Paul Rubens
The Pre-Raphaelite woman is in strong display at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.http://www.preraphaelites.org/