I was asked to write an 'ekphratic response' to a painting of my choice in the Courtauld Gallery this week, which is not the sort of writing I've ever really done before. I chose Cranach's Adam and Eve (below) and I really had to force myself not to research it to within an inch of its life before I dared write anything. Interestingly, when I'd finished and set myself free to research, I realised that I'd actually spotted most of the things in the Courtauld catalogue listing just by looking at the picture really carefully (the only one I didn't get was the roebuck drinking from the stream, which is apparently a common metaphor for the Christian soul's longing for God).
That seemed interesting to me because normally when I'm in an art gallery I read the labels slavishly and gather as much information as possible before I make any kind of judgement. Close looking - it's good.
Apparently this painting would have been the sort of thing Protestant families would have had on display in their houses to stimulate theological discussion along the lines of 'What are all the possible meanings for the lamb?' - so I guess there's a kind of textual element to it there, in that it's actually inviting you to look and read.
Lucas Cranach the Elder – Adam and Eve
Cranach carved his batwing snake sign – comically crowned counterpart to the slithering S above – into the black-backed bark of panel-painted Adam andEve, mid-centre mid-1526 maker’s mark. Off centre the crucial apple-knotted W of limbs – sheepish stag-branch-netted Adam, hand to head, ruminates – abstracted Eve hangs from the branch (ready to spring) weight in heavy hips, foot, heel in, to stork the not-yet snake killer, standing between dry matt earth (made mate), waddling priestly partridge pair and liquid spring-reflected roebuck – mate mirrored, like the melancholic heron, reversed in the walking white horse at mid-right, above grass-eyed emblem-book tabby cat (boar wildly wandering in). Cranach carved curved golden tendrils twining from Eve like the serpentine threads of blood-heavy grapes, like the light on the garden grass – above, is it dusk or dawn?