Nude Adam and Eve in Early Christian Art

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Phase 1. Christians were ashamed of their bodies

The Fathers of the Church were greatly influenced with the negative attitude to physical matter propagated by hellenistic philosophies and Gnostic sects. This is reflected in how Christians protrayed naked women and men in their art.

St Augustine (354-430 AD) was one of their spokesmen. Sexual attraction and carnal pleasure are sinful. Parents pass on original sin to their children by the enjoyment of sex. If Adam and Eve had not sinned, God would have given them children without the corrupt means of intercourse. The best thing for a man is to reduce contact with his wife. And women are better off if they remain virgins. For Augustine’s actual words, see here.

 fresco_cata

3rd century fresco

Catacomb of St Piretro and St Marcellino, Rome.

Ancient Christian art rarely showed naked figures. When they are, they are usually represented almost sexless.

Moreover, as in this seduction scene of Adam and Eve, fig leaves cover the embarrassing parts of the body. This in spite of the fact that, according to Genesis, Adam and Eve only wore fig leaves after the seduction.

Notice that the seducer is still portrayed as a serpent

 

 fresco_maus

4th century fresco

Ancient Christian mausoleum

Again: figleaves during the seduction scene. People should not see the body naked.

 

 earlyfresco

5th century fresco

Eve is in the middle of being seduced, but both Adam and Eve already wear fig leaves. God the Creator, who looks on, is fully clothed.

Eve’s body is very much like Adam’s. We recognise her as a woman because of her long hair, and Adam because of his beard.

According to Augustine, sex and intercourse only exist because of sin. For him sexless bodies were the original intention of God.

“If Adam and Eve had not sinned, they might have had children, from the gift of the Almighty Creator without intercourse, in some other way. Was God not able to create the two of them also without parents? Was he not able to form the Flesh of Christ in a virgin womb? . . .”
St Augustine, On Marriage §2