In a panel by Andrea Pisano, in Giotto’s bell tower, we can see Eve as the rib’s birth by Adam. A religious nonsense, an intriguing puzzle for an alchemist.
The biblical verses in Genesis 2:21-22: ” And made Yahweh Elohim to fall on the Adam a deep sleep, and he slept, and He took a rib from him and closed the flesh underneath. And formed Yahweh Elohim to the beginning and the end of the rib, which was taken from the Adam into a woman and brought her unto the Adam “, these verses were summarized by the Middle Ages artists with iconographic simplicity and deep hermetic knowledge. In fact, only in the artistic masterpieces of this much undervalued epoch there could have been showed a giving birth of a rib by a man. And not two mates already formed, as the later standard Renaissance iconography had.
In the christian popular religious culture, until an half century ago, we had been taught from infancy to take this biblical legend literally, as man and woman bound to get along together. While in theological milieus they preferred to take Adam and Eve as symbolical representations of Soul and Body (see St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas). Anyway, the readers accustomed with this site’s credo already know my supposition that Alchemy is the basis of the oldest religious beliefs. In fact, to me, here we are examining, if not an alchemical pair, at least an alchemical process, and we will see how our usual cultural path is being diverted from the ancient hermetic culture.
This peculiar rendering of the Creation of Eve was not a creative solo by Andrea Pisano (1290 – 1348), but there are plenty of similar examples among medieval artists, although not so masterly delineated. For instance, below, we can see some representations of the same scene by Wiligelmus di Modena (active between c. 1099 and 1120) and Pacino di Bonaguida (active between c. 1302 and 1343).
Andrea Pisano is known for having contributed to freeing italian medieval art from Byzantine hieratic stiffness. The formation of his style was said to be due rather to Giotto di Bondone than to his earlier master. Since then, Pisano’s naturalistically rendered human figures could become the primary expressive vehicle of his art. Even, according to some art critics, this feature makes him the forerunner of the Renaissance. But Pisano still remains a medieval artist, for both temporal collocation and iconographic themes. In fact the iconography of his Creation of Eve belongs fully to Middle Ages, not to Renaissance, which would take place only a century after.
On Andrea Pisano (or Andrea da Pontedera, as he is also known from his birthplace Pontedera, near Pisa, hence Pisano), we know enough life details, as Giorgio Vasari includes a biography of him in his “Lives”. So we got informed that Pisano was started as goldsmith, and apparently well learned the chiseling art. Among his masters and pupils we find all the most known Italian sculptors of his time. He succeeded to Giotto as Master of the Works in Piazza del Duomo in Firenze, where, until then, he was already famous for the South Doors of the Baptistery. Pisano continued the construction of the bell tower, scrupulously following Giotto’s design. He just added a second fascia, which he personally decorated with lozenge-shaped panels, to which belongs the piece we are examining. His artistic career ended as Master of the Works in cattedrale di Orvieto.
To better understand Pisano’s work we must deepen the actual Genesis words, retaking the biblical verses above mentioned and following up the whole action till verse 25:
V.1: And made Yahweh Elohim to fall on the Adam a deep sleep, and he slept, and He took a rib from him and closed the flesh underneath.
V.22: And formed Yahweh Elohim to the beginning and the end of the rib, which was taken from the Adam into a woman and brought her unto the Adam.
V.23: And said the Adam, “The beginning and the end of this is now at last bone from my bones, flesh from my flesh. For the beginning and end of this shall be called woman, because out of the man the beginning and end of this has been taken.
V.24: Therefore shall a man leave the beginning and end of his father and the beginning and end of his mother and shall cling to his woman and become into one flesh”.
V.25: And they were both naked and the Adam and his woman were not ashamed.
The enigma doesn’t concern only the weird process of Eve’s Creation, but the certain identification of Adam, Eve, man and woman in the Genesis narrative. We know that, when symbolism is involved, precision is required. As it can be seen, the word Adam, after the first nomination, once again reappears after the surgical operation is completed. It is only at the end, when the man (not nominated as Adam) and the woman (not nominated as Eve) become again one flesh that the word Adam reappears in the text. There are two records of the birth of Adam in the 6th day of creation. The first is “And Elohim said, let us make Adam in our image, after our likeness”. The second is: “So Elohim created Adam in His own image, in the image of Elohim created He him, male and female created He them”.
So, literally, Eve was “Adam’s rib”. But why didn’t Yahweh Elohim just make woman from earth as he had made Adam? An alchemist would replay that he can imagine the composition of the earth which actually made Adam. The problem, with the alchemist, is the rib, of course. And the verses in Genesis 2:21-22 appears to mean exactly the word “rib”. Nevertheless, she was not a surgically removed rib, walking around the garden. Yahweh Elohim then worked the rib into Eve. This has been, and actually is, a problem also for those who tends to literally take the creation of Adam and Eve as the origin of the human spreading all over the earth’s surface, and not as simply figurative.
As it is fully admitted by art critics, the standard medieval iconography of Eve rising from Adam’s side was hardly compatible with the Renaissance commitment to the naturalistic representation of the human body ( see the Michelangelo Buonarroti ambiguous Creation of Eve in the Sistina Chapel ceiling). For, as Jean Calvin stated: ” this method of forming woman may seem ridiculous and Moses appears dealing in fables”. But, what Calvin didn’t accept anymore, was still taught in the Platonic Academies of his time, that’s to say that Adam and Eve were just symbols, plastic representations of “forces” and “entities”. However, from alchemists point of view, the vicissitudes of the biblical personages cannot be taken as “fables”, but should be thoroughly examined, as inside them must be hidden valuable operative hints.
Even Fulcanelli, in his “the Philosophical Dwellings”, handles the topic. After having stunned us in his usual symbolic maze, he lightheartedly makes us to understand that the final explanation of this Genesis scene could actually be different from the one he started with, in fact he catalogues two kinds of Adam: the red Adam and the primitive Adam. Fulcanelli analyzes the personage of Adam so much thoroughly, to get to isolate him from the context of the Genesis narrative, and when it comes to Eve, Fulcanelli confesses that she puts a strain on his certitudes ( but we know he was not so skilled with regard to female characters, for his own admission). And as for the rib, he doesn’t even mention it, but instead describes a particular process giving off a “lenticular” object, which we will see in the second part of the article.
In Hebrew culture, parts of the body had symbolic meaning. The head, the hearth, the feet, the hands and the rib too had all deep symbolic significations. Only some of these have survived in western culture, as we talk about “giving our heart” to someone, or being the “head” of an organization. In today Hebrew culture, to call someone your “rib” was to suggest that they are your closest friend. But what the rib did represent in ancient time is now mysterious to us. In the Genesis, the symbolism of “bones” is not lost in Eve’s creation, in fact in 2:23-24 we can find “This is …..bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh“, so Adam acknowledges that the woman was to be regarded as his own flesh and bone. He sensed his incompleteness without her. Mind, I’m talking here about an alchemical pair, not human.
Due to such symbolic uncertainty, the religious refusal to consider the role of the rib cannot come as a surprise. The position of the first fathers of the church was controversial even on Eve’s role. In fact, supposing the created gradually assuming more and more importance during the six days of creation of the world, what place did take Eve, created the last day? Taking the Soul as the most important thing, Adam was identified as the Body, but almost all the fathers of the church denied the possibility that Eve could represent the Soul. The theological dispute so shifted to the Adam`s possibility of actually representing the Soul, which in this way would give life to the Body, literally inhabiting it. As, traditionally, the man symbolically represented the Soul and the woman the Body. Taking inspiration from Genesis, Thomas Aquinas rejected the theory of St. Augustine about Body and Soul created together, but stated that, since the Soul appeared to be created before, so the Soul initiated the movements of the Body. If Aquinas, who wrote some treaties contiguous to Alchemy, had asked for rescue to the hermetic theory of Body, Spirit of Life and Soul, perhaps he would have elaborated a more sophisticate postulate.
In fact alchemists do recognize the existence of a Mercurial Spirit of Life, traditionally assigned to the woman, and a Sulphurous Soul, traditionally assigned to the man. Hence the symbolism of the Sun and the Moon (1). But why, in the Genesis tale, Eve/Mercurius was extracted from Adam/Sulphur, when alchemically it was the contrary, in fact Mercurius/Spirit of Life was the first to be extracted from the raw matter, and just after, in its turn, Mercurius/Spirit of Life extracted the Sulphur/Soul? In the mythological pair Eros-Psyche there is a reverse of sex, with Eros clearly a Mercurial character, in spite of his male sex, and Psyche representing the Soul, in spite of her being a woman (2). In the most ancient mythological tales we can observe the undifferentiated Spirit of Life’s role played by male characters, and the Soul, on the contrary, played by women. This was because the ancient attributed to the Spirit of Life/Mercurius an exuberance and energy typical of young men, while the static and thoughtful Soul was given a women appearance. This can astonish the Greek-Roman thought, but it is nor foreign to cultures as the islamic one, for instance, where to women is attributed the brain, with the barren and end in itself thought, and to men the heart, with generosity and courage and then the yearning for the divine.
Back to Fulcanelli, he lets the Eve issue drop and instead presents an interesting disquisition on Adam, that is absolutely worth deal, considering the great confusion of the Baroque age alchemists on the terms Adam and Adamas. And since, in spite of what Fulcanelli means, Eve actually “is ” Adam, we have to deepen our research on her male counterpart.
To be continued at Andrea Pisano and the Weird Birth of Eve Rib. Part 2 .