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Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart's Renaissance

October 6, 2010–January 17, 2011

Adam and Eve

The theme of Adam and Eve provided Gossart with an opportunity to portray male and female nudes at almost lifesize scale in some of his paintings. Initially, Gossart followed Dürer's staid approach, as in the latter's famous 1504 engraving, but he increasingly engaged in an exploration of the bold sensuality of the two figures entangled in lust and guilt. This interpretation must have seemed shockingly innovative in the 1520s, imparting a very human emphasis to the biblical story of the origin of sexual knowledge. The understanding of human anatomy that Gossart developed for his representations of Adam and Eve as well as for his mythological themes suggests that he studied the nude after life, but no relevant drawings survive. No doubt his use of proportion studies such as those by Dürer and those described in book 3 of Vitruvius' De architectura (from the late first century B.C.) also informed his depictions.