Adam and Eve in Paradise
Leonhard Kern (1588-1662)
Forchtenberg or Heidelberg, ca 1614-1620
Height 30.5 cm, width 22 cm, depth 4 cm
Provenance: Switzerland, private collection
Published in: Laue, G.: Leonhard Kern. The German Giambologna, Kunstkammer Edition, Vol. 3, Munich 2016, pp. 15, 52, 56, 74f., Cat. No. 3, Figs. 5, 27, 30; Laue, G.: The Kunstkammer. Wonders are Collectable. Kunstkammer Edition, Vol. 1, Munich 2016, pp. 42, 114, Cat. No. 18, Fig. 25
This relief depicts Adam and Eve in a dramatic pose directly after the act of original sin. Fleeing from the wrath of God, the couple cowers under the apple tree and a neighbouring fig tree. They lift their arms above them, conscious of the serious offence they have committed, whereby Adam also conceals his nakedness with one hand by covering his groin with fig leaves. With a frightened look in their eyes, the couple glances upwards towards heaven, while an elongated cloud accumulates and circles above them between the trees. The meaning of this strange cloud in the story of Adam and Eve can be derived from the Old Testament text, which describes the present scene as follows: 'When they heard the voice of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden during the breeze of the day, the man and his wife concealed themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. So the Lord God called out to the man, asking him: Where are you? I heard your voice in the garden, the man answered, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid from you' (Genesis 3:8-10, ISV). Thus one can interpret the cloud as the visual translation of God's enraged voice; yet at the same time, it alludes to the breeze or wind that announces the arrival of the Creator. Evidently, Kern was inspired by an engraving by Hans Sebald Beham from 1543 depicting Adam and Eve's banishment from Paradise when creating this relief. In this particular engraving, an angel threatens Adam and Eve with a sword, brandishing the weapon above his head. At the same time, the angel blows clouds from his mouth, chasing Adam and Eve out of the garden. Kern has integrated these clouds into his own composition as a pictorial citation of the engraving, even though his work focuses on a different scene from the episode of the Fall of Man. The scene represented here occurs before Adam and Eve's banishment from the Garden of Eden; that is, the story has not yet reached its climax. Heightened by Adam and Eve's guilt and fear for their forthcoming punishment, the image is clearly marked by a certain tension. It is because of this emotional intensity that Kern chose this rarely depicted scene. Clearly, Kern aims to bring the heightened emotions of the guilty, terrified couple into the spotlight in this relief.