Adam and Eve
Dated on plate, 1504
Purchased as the gift of Eugene V. Thaw, S. Parker Gilbert, Rodney B. Berens, Mrs. Oscar de la Renta, Elaine Rosenberg, T. Kimball Brooker, George L. K. Frelinghuysen, and on the Ryskamp Fund, the Edwin H. Herzog Fund, and the Lois and Walter C. Baker Fund
With this print, Dürer catapulted to international prominence and became the foremost printmaker in Europe. Having been introduced to the canon of proportions—a mathematical system designed to depict the ideal human body—by Jacopo de' Barbari, an Italian artist visiting Nuremberg in 1500, Dürer used the technique to create Adam and Eve. He paired their flawless physiques with an emphasis on perfect temperament. Erwin Panofsky argued that the animals embody the balance of bodily fluids believed to determine personality, called humors, and were associated with particular traits, for example, elk (melancholy), rabbit (sensuality), cat (cruelty), and ox (sluggishness). Praising Dürer's couple, contemporary poet Caspar Velius wrote, "When the Angel saw them, he said with amazement: 'You were not yet this beautiful when I drove you out of Paradise.'"