In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida: Visions of the Garden of Eden

Lucas Cranach Adam and Eve

Lucas Cranach I
Adam and Eve 1526

Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, London

John Martin, ‘The Garden of Eden’ 1821
John Martin
The Garden of Eden 1821
Tate
Charles Mahoney, ‘Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden’ exhibited 1936
Charles Mahoney
Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden exhibited 1936
Tate
© Tate
William Blake, ‘Satan Exulting over Eve’ c.1795
William Blake
Satan Exulting over Eve c.1795
Tate
Damien Hirst Adam and Eve

Damien Hirst
Adam and Eve (Banished from the Garden) 1999

© the artist Photo: Mike Parsons Courtesy Jay Jopling/White Cube (London) and Science Ltd

The theme of this exhibition can be broadly characterised as the contemporary consequences of the original myth of the fall from grace. Most cultures have their version of a lost, golden past. In the Bible, Eden is a lush Paradise from which Adam and Eve are expelled after eating forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Ancient Greek myths also spoke of a Golden Age of innocence which was destroyed when Pandora released misery into the world by opening a box she was told not to open.

The idea of this fall from grace has had an enduring power, and some of the most celebrated European works of art deal with the theme. Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Adam and Eve focuses on the moment when Eve offers Adam the forbidden fruit. Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights is a three-part altarpiece which shows Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden on the left panel, while in the centre is a world in which men and women indulge in all kinds of sinful pleasure (the ‘Earthly Delights’), and on the right is a vision of the torments of hell. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes show the suffering of Adam and Eve as they are expelled from the Garden.

Later artists who continued to examine this theme include William Blake and JMW Turner. The Tate Collection has several examples, including works by John Martin and Charles Mahoney which focus not on temptation and sin, but simply on the Garden of Eden as a blissful place of delight and perfection.