To Bite or Not To Bite?

"Adam should be off-balance; he's about to take a bite from that terrible apple."—Luke Syson, curator

Tullio Lombardo (Italian, ca. 1455–1532). Adam, ca. 1490–95. Marble. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Fletcher Fund, 1936 (36.163). Learn more about this object.

How does the sculpted body communicate? Hear from Met experts, leading authorities, and rising stars, each with a unique viewpoint on the language of gesture, facial expression, and pose.

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Narrator: This sculpture hints at the tension in the Old Testament story of Adam, the first man.

Peter Bell: It's a very subtle body language. He's standing with his weight on his right leg. The right shoulder is slightly lower than the left. And this is a pose that in the Renaissance, and subsequently, we call contrapposto. Against this essentially static and relaxed posture, we have the arms, which are where the action is happening—in the apple that Adam is holding in his left hand. And this is the crux of the story: Adam takes a bite of the forbidden fruit and is suddenly aware of his shameful nudity.

Luke Syson: It looks as if the primary view of this sculpture should be from straight on. From the side, however, a note of unease creeps in—and quite right, too, given the extraordinary thing that he's about to do. He's about to cause the fall of man. Then you look at the head, framed by all those elaborate curls, and it's tilted to one side in a way that's actually slightly unexpected. It just throws the piece off balance in a way that, I think, is very important for the story. Adam should be off-balance at the moment that he's about to take a bite from that terrible apple.

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