Adam Naming the Animals, detail from the Creation by Unknown Venetian artist

Unknown Venetian artist

Adam Naming the Animals, detail from the Creation, 13th century, Mosaic, Basilica di San Marco, Venice, Scala / Art Resource, NY

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The Emperor with No Clothes

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This mosaic is one of a series of scenes in the southernmost dome of the atrium of San Marco in Venice portraying the story of the Creation and Fall (Demus 1984, vol. 2). Several of the episodes from Genesis depicted in the atrium were based by the mosaicists on the miniatures in the Cotton Genesis, a fifth-century manuscript that was in Venice during the thirteenth century. However, the Naming of the Animals appears to have been one of the subjects that was already missing from the book when it was in Venice, so that the artists had to create the composition themselves (Kessler 2014: 78–81).

At San Marco we see God enthroned on the left as he raises his hand to direct Adam to name the beasts arrayed before him. Adam stands in a paradisiacal landscape containing trees and flowering plants. He is shown entirely naked. He holds out the index finger of his right hand as he gives the animals their names, while resting his left hand upon the head of a grimacing lion, as if to pat a tame dog. The other creatures include both domestic and wild animals, including leopards and bears, as well as horses, sheep, and camels. The pairing of the animals anticipates the creation of Eve, in illustration of the last words of Genesis 2:20 (KJV):

And Adam gave names to all animals, and to all the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.

Adam’s standing pose may reflect his mastery over the creatures, since Early Christian writers such as Gregory of Nyssa claimed that Adam’s upright posture was a sign of his royal power over the beasts (Migne 1857–66, vol. 44, col. 144).



Demus, Otto. 1984. The Mosaics of San Marco in Venice, 2 vols (Chicago: University of Chicago Press)

Kessler, Herbert L. 2014. ‘Thirteenth-Century Venetian Revisions of the Cotton Genesis Cycle’, in The Atrium of San Marco in Venice: The Genesis and Medieval Reality of the Genesis Mosaics, ed. by Martin Büchsel, Herbert L. Kessler, and Rebecca Müller (Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag), pp. 75–94

Migne, Jacques-Paul. 1857–66. Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Graeca, 161 vols (Paris)

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