Adam in the Earthly Paradise, diptych valve from the Carrand Diptych by unknown artist

Unknown artist

Adam in the Earthly Paradise, diptych valve from the Carrand Diptych, 5th century, Ivory, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, n.19 C, George Tatge / Alinari / Art Resource, NY

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An Apostolic Adam

Individual Commentary
Commentary by
Henry Maguire

The Carrand Diptych, now in Florence, is composed of two panels of ivory (Shelton 1982; Konowitz 1984). Its classical style relates it to carvings produced at the turn of the fifth century, but its origin, whether Italy or Constantinople, is unknown. The sizes and frames of the two panels indicate that they were designed as a pair.

The left wing portrays Adam making a gesture of speech with his right hand as he names the animals in Paradise (Genesis 2:19–20). He sits in a landscape containing fruit-bearing trees and, at the bottom, the four Rivers of Paradise (Genesis 2:10–14). Adam’s relaxed pose and explicit nakedness illustrate verse 25, which states that in his prelapsarian state he was naked and not ashamed. Around him cluster the various animals that he is naming, including the serpent, which arches its back because it has not yet been condemned to crawl upon its belly as punishment for tempting Eve. Adam has no fear of even the fiercest creatures, such as the great lion just beneath him, because before the original sin the animals in Paradise were totally peaceable.

The diptych’s right panel represents scenes from the life of Paul the Apostle, who is shown balding, as is customary in traditional depictions of the saint. At the top, the apostle sits between two men, who listen to him as he makes a gesture of speech. The middle register illustrates the miracle of Paul and the viper on Malta (Acts 28:2–6). The apostle stands on the left, his hand being bitten by the snake that has come out of the small fire shown at his feet. Beside him, Publius, the governor of the island, raises his right hand to indicate his astonishment that no harm has befallen the saint. In the bottom register the apostle heals the sick of the island, including the emaciated father of Publius (Acts 28:7–9).

At first sight, the subjects of this pair of panels appear unrelated, but—as we shall see—there is great significance in the pairing.

References

Konowitz, Ellen. 1984. ‘The Program of the Carrand Diptych’, The Art Bulletin, 66.3: 484–88

Shelton, Kathleen J. Verfasser. 1982. ‘The Diptych of the Young Office Holder’, Jahrbuch Für Antike Und Christentum: 32