Peter Paul Rubens: The Fall of Man (1628-29)

Rubens studied Titian carefully throughout his career, copying many of his paintings. This copy of The Fall of Man in the Prado was done when he was once again in Madrid for eight months in 1628–29. He was at the height of his diplomatic career, trying to negotiate a peace between the Spanish Netherlands and the United Provinces. Philip IV had knighted him in 1624, and he was treated as a peer by the nobility.

It was not a simple copy. Rubens added some details, like the parrot at the left. He changed Adam’s position for a more harmonious composition (Titian’s pictures tilts somewhat to the left), makes his expression more intense. He also makes him older. Flemish and Dutch painters often show a strange fascination with the bodies of older, even old men.

The comparison with Rubens’ own earlier Adam and Eve from the beginning of his career is interesting as well. His style sure developed over those thirty years!

This is one of the oldest surviving paintings by Rubens, from before he traveled to Italy, and not “Rubenesque” in any sense at all.

To his contemporaries, Charles-Joseph Natoire was on a level with Boucher. This Expulsion from Paradise (1740) is full of involuntary humor. The leaves wrapped around the hips, Eve’s tearfulness and Adam’s supplicatory pose, but most of all God’s gesture that reminds a modern viewer of an angry motorist. This last bit is unfair of course, but I doubt it looked very divine to contemporaries either.

There are probably few epochs in the history of art that were as far from religion as the court of Louis XV. The buzzword of the time was galant, which carried connotations of tenderness, elegance, eroticism, and was applied to pretty much everything. Prints in religious or moral books were often adapted erotic scenes. If you see, in the above scene, Eve as a girl who has just lost her virginity, Adam as the man who did the deed, and God as the angry father, it makes a lot more sense.

When this painting was first exhibited in 1717, it caused a great scandal, not because it was the regent, Philippe d’Orléans, and his mistress Marie-Madeleine de la Vieuville who had sat for Adam and Eve, but because Jean-Baptiste Santerre had originally painted them without navels. He was an ardent supporter of the so-called dogme de l’anomphalie or anomphalisme, which seems to be restricted to France. The navels that you see now were probably added by another painter, Santerre died soon afterwards.

In January 2005, the painting was sold in an auction for $276,800 by Doyle New York, who still keep a description page with many details.