Portrait of a Lady
Old Master Paintings
Sixteenth-century Europe loved scintillatingly provocative pictures of women twisting men round their little fingers with cunning stratagem, thereby driving them to destruction. Particularly fond of the theme of the demonic power stemming from female sexuality was Hans Baldung, perhaps Dürer’s best pupil, who was dubbed ‘Grien’ after his favourite shade of metallic green which here covers the snake’s body.
The obvious prototype for the role is Eve, the ancestral mother. Through her eating of the fruit, sinful but sweet to taste, the human body became the source of knowledge and pleasure, but also subjected to death. Baldung’s pair of pictures (originally part of a series complemented by Judith with the severed head of Holofernes, and Venus and Cupid) focuses clearly on the story’s erotic content. The sin is already done, the progenitors cover their loins with leaves, but their movements are wanton rather than shy. Evil has triumphed. Adam is tormented by lust: his body convulses, and he presses his right hand to the place of his missing rib. The locks of his hair form horns, his lips are parted, and his face is covered by a beard and moustache – all traits of contemporary depictions of satyrs. While Adam is portrayed as a victim, Eve is the active seductress, who finds unabashed pleasure in the power of her desirable beauty. The smile playing on her lips reflects self-satisfaction; her gaze and her every movement are directed to the man’s body, as if to take possession of it.
This record is subject to revision due to ongoing research.