The Hours of Henry IV of France


Adam and Eve tempted by the snake, f. 20v

The main part of the book of hours, i.e. the little office of the Virgin and, specifically, matins, begins with an image of original sin, i.e. Adam and Eve both covering their genitals, meaning that they have already sinned. Between them stands the tree of the knowledge of good and evil laden with golden fruits and, coiled around its trunk, a snake with wings, a female face and breasts. The anthropozoomorphic appearance of the snake is borrowed from a Hebrew legend appearing in the Book of Jubilees (c. year 100 AD) and also told by Philo of Alexandria (c. 15 BC to 42 AD). According to this legend, before the Fall, all the animals in Paradise spoke the same language. In addition, the Christian exegesis describes the snake as being “in the shape of a virgin” or “having the head of a virgin.” The wings possibly refer to the sirens of Antiquity (birds with a woman’s head who seduced men with their song). Next to the feet of the first humans are two golden fruits that have fallen from the tree. The way Eve touches her neck with her right hand is interesting, being a gesture associated more with Adam, and likewise the way the first father points to his partner as the cause of the sin.

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