Adam (Ghent Altarpiece) Jan van Eyck 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 Ghent Altarpiece features Adam and Eve as the two widest opposing wings in this highly complex series of panel paintings

Adam sits in the far left of the altarpiece, with Eve sat across to the right. They form part of the two wings which support the main central panels of any tripytch or diptych. The format of this traditional artistic layout means that the side wings tend to be much narrower and longer than the central areas, so that they can be bent around to meet and close together.

The two opposing wings would have been completed around the same time in order to make sure that their styles complemented each other. If elements of lighting or colour were amended on one, it is likely that the other would need to be changed likewise.

The story of Adam and Eve represents the earliest development of humanity, at least from the point of view of Christianity. Their nudity is intended to capture the honesty and vulnerability of early man, offering all followers some valuable moral guidance.

The purity of Adam and Eve and their relationship with the environment reminds us of just how far humanity has come in the past few thousand years but also serves as a warning of what could happen if we move too far from our original roots.

Art was used as a way of reinforcing the religious principles which were recited by followers from scripture. Attendance on a weekly basis was also essential to strengthen the bond between Christians and their God. Fine art can amaze and astound by itself, so when added to the emotive concoction of religious tales, humans can strengthen their own commitment to the cause.

Those interested in art history more generally would be wise to check out some of the alternative versions of Adam within the Renaissance and Baroque eras. It was at this point that religious themes were so frequent within fine art, partly due to the wealth with which religious institutions and figures were able to offer for commissioned pieces.

Michelangelo's Creation of Adam remains the most famous depiction of either or both of these iconic religious figures. His portrait features God famously on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and this is one of the most memorable frescoes in the building. Michelangelo himself was following in the footsteps of several other key Renaissance artists before getting the opportunity to add his own work.

Adam and Eve Expulsion from the Garden of Eden Michelangelo's Creation of Adam Adam and Eve Adam and Eve