The Fall Albrecht Durer Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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The engraving of The Fall in 1504 by Albrecht Dürer takes the famous story of Adam and Eve and fills the scene with nuance and innovation. The scene casts Adam and Eve standing together in a dark forest reminiscent of the German woods with which Dürer was familiar. However, the German artist introduced several foreign motifs into the scene.

The key figures stand in counterpoise with their weight resting on one foot. This stance, when combined with the position of their hips and shoulders, gives the impression that these figures can move and are only resting temporarily. Despite their natural pose, Adam and Eve's heads are turned to stare directly at each other in an artificial manner. This deliberate clash of natural and artificial appears several times within The Fall. For example, Eve can be seen with an apple taken from a tree with fig leaves. A parrot, from a tropical climate, is sitting in a distinctly German forest.

Tropical parrots were sought after by collectors in 16th century Germany and commonly used as symbols in artistic works. The noise parrots make was thought to sound like Ave Maria, the name of the prayer that honours the Virgin Mary. The Virgin Mary acts as the antidote to Eve's original sin that caused The Fall. The elk, ox, rabbit and cat found within the engraving each represent one of the body's four humours and the associated personality type and bodily fluid.

  • The elk: Melancholic, black bile
  • The Ox: Phlegmatic, phlegm
  • The Rabbit: Sanguine, blood
  • The cat: Choleric, yellow bile

Adam and Eve held a perfect balance between these humours. After the Fall, the humours found in people were out of balance, causing different temperaments and personality types. Dürer placed the four animals around Adam and Eve representing the perfect balance and harmony that existed within the Garden of Eden. The cat is content to ignore the house, and the goat can still be found in his place in the mountains. Dürer took his chance within The Fall to express some of his cultural and personal concerns. Even though Dürer was proud of his German heritage, he was also enraptured with Italian classical tradition. In The Fall, the German forest gives way to figures whose proportions reference the Greek sculptures of Venus and Apollo. The symbolism of the animals and the humours is further anchored in the figures' perfect proportions representing their perfect internal balance and harmony.