Rüdiger Schopf
Adam and Eve with Abel

Manuscript Illustration
Basel, Universitätsbibliothek, A II 1, fol. 19r
(Nicholas de Lyra, Postil to Genesis and Exodus)

There are many medieval and paleo-Christian images of the post-lapsarian Adam and Eve working at the chores God assigned them in Genesis 3:16-19,* but few are as positive and sentimental as this illustration from a text of Nicholas of Lyra's postil a marginal note, especially on a biblical text, or a book of such notes on Genesis. Adam digs with a hoe and smiles at Eve, who holds her baby on her lap while she works a distaff, a common symbol of womanly duty. Nicholas interprets God's punishments as the basis for the "domestic life" that the two are to pursue. Eve will be bound to her husband propter domesticam vitam, "for a domestic life," and as for Adam, "just as the woman is subjected to the man in a domestic life, in the same way it is the role of the man to procure the necessities of life for himself, his family, and his wife."1

That the illustrator may have seen Nicholas's comment as applicable to contemporary men and women may be suggested by the fact that this couple is dressed like contemporary peasants, not in the garments of skins that God made them (Genesis 3:21).

The intimacy between Eve and the naked baby is strongly reminiscent of Madonna and Child images of the time. The Virgin Mary is traditionally considered the second Eve, and Eve's son Abel is considered a type of Christ.

The top of a distaff holds the unspun flax or wool. One pulls out a thread from the distaff with one hand and wraps it around a spindle with the other. Here the artist has neglected to represent Eve's other hand at all. The object sitting to her left on the floor is too big to be a spindle; many medieval and later illustrations put a basket for the finished thread on the floor beside the woman.

Read more about images of Adam and Eve and of Abel.

Source: E-codices: Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland

1 Glossa Ordinaria, I, col. 102-103: On Genesis 3:16, conjungitur mulier viro propter domesticam vitam, et quantum ad hoc puniet eam viro subjiciendo. On verses 17-19, Hic ponitur punitio viri. Circa quod sciendum, quod sicut in domestica vita mulier subjicitur viro, ita ad virum pertinet procurare necessaria vitae, pr so, familia, et uxore, et ideo quantum ad hoc punitur cum subditur.

*Genesis 3:16-19 reads as follows: "To the woman also he said: I will multiply thy sorrows, and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband's power, and he shall have dominion over thee. And to Adam he said: Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, cursed is the earth in thy work; with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herbs of the earth. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return."