This is the fourth post in a series of posts exploring art, literature and numbers in Fifty Shades of Grey. If you have not, I encourage you to go back and read the first post about the connection of all of these, second post where we explore the outside of the Garden of Earthly Delights, and in the third post we explored the opening of the triptych.
The left hand panel takes us back to the biblical narrative of creation. Now we are confronted with day five and six – the creation of animals and humans. We arrive at the moment when God presents Adam with Eve in Paradise.
Adam just woke up from a deep sleep to find God standing above him holding Eve. Eve kneels. Her eyes are demurely lowered, though some say she presents her body seductively. Well, we are in Paradise and Eve is naked. That’s probably enough to count as seductive for them. But, in reality she isn’t throwing a pose at all. She seems shy and her free hand is tense and tentatively lifted as if she would rather cover herself or maybe even detach herself from God’s tight grip. On the other hand Adam, who has been surprised by their arrival, eyes Eve lustfully.
Both things, her urge to cover herself as if ashamed and his lustful glance, are unusual. At Bosch’s time it was believed that Adam and Eve were oblivious of their nakedness until they ate the forbidden fruit that gave them knowledge and that they didn’t knew lust. Copulation was only done for reproductive purposes and there was no pleasure to be found in it. Carnal lust was the first sin committed by Eve after the fall. But here it is Adam starring at Eve without having yet broken God’s rules. Some say that Bosch meant to show in the way he depicted the scene that humankind was doomed from the beginning. That would definitely make him a glass half empty type of guy. Not much different to Christian I might add, who thinks he is not worthy of love because he was doomed to be a monster from the beginning.
But back to God’s way of presenting Eve to Adam. He holds her by the wrist as if checking her pulse and feeling her blood circulate through her body. Maybe it is the closeness to her life force that makes God in this panel appear younger and less stressed than on the outside. However, the way he holds her is curious. It is a very dominant grip. Why wouldn’t he lead her by the hand like a beloved child or have her hand rest on his lower arm like a proud father presenting a bride to her husband? Instead he pulls her behind like a prisoner.
The peculiar hold on her is in that way good, that it can get easily noticed elsewhere, like in Ana’s strawberry dream. In it Christian stands in a cage, bare chested and with a bowl of strawberries. He offers one of the fruits to Ana through the bars and encourages her to eat. She wants to but is held back by some unseen force around her wrist. Ana is fighting it. She even tries to scream but is mute. In the end Christian stretches a bit further toward her, just enough so that she can take a bite. As soon as she tastes the fruit the cage disappears and she is free. She reaches up to graze her fingers through his chest hair. That’s when Christian wakes her up to chase the dawn of a new day.
This dream in a way marks the transition to the middle panel which gave the whole triptych its name. Once freed from God’s presence and grip, not quite in Paradise anymore, but a place very much alike it we are now in the Garden of Earthly Delights.
Oversized and prominently placed we can find strawberries here in the midst of a wild party. At one place a man even offers a woman strawberries and the two look remarkably like Adam and Eve. And more so they look comfortable, without fear and like they are having fun. Among all the other people are also some which are strongly covered in body hair representing wild or primeval humanity. Some say they are meant to symbolize the noble savage who represents an imagined alternative to the civilized life known in Christian Europe. Others see these figures connected with whoredom and lust.
Ana is still caught between the left panel and the middle. She is like Eve tethered to God in so far as the belief is deeply rooted in Western society and has therefore shaped the culture. Our rights and wrongs aren’t that far away from what people in Bosch’s time believed and so are our gender role clichés as well as our ways of thinking and approaching our sex life. God approves, even blesses Eve’s connection to Adam, but at the same time he holds her back- reproduce but don’t find pleasure in the act itself. Don’t think, don’t look for possible alternatives. But Ana does and she breaks free. Now, is it an alternate way of living or is it whoredom and the sin of lust? Is it refound paradise or is it the corrupted path to hell? Debasement or high ideal?
One other thought on the left panel shall only be mentioned shortly. In a pond in front of Eve a hybrid creature is shown reading a book. It mirrors the book in God’s lap on the outside and is another oddity, clearly you wouldn’t expect a book present during creation. There hasn’t been any story yet. Or has there? Is it maybe all just a story? What was first, the story or the book?
Bosch lived at a time where great discoveries were made about the earth, both by scientists and by adventurers. While Bosch still used the pre-Copernicus way of depicting earth as a disc, these discoveries allowed only one conclusion. That Paradise wasn’t a place on earth. Thus paradise was removed from reality and into the realm of mythology. So, does Bosch already question whether all of it might just be a story, just a fantasy that unlike no other story has such influence and impact on life? What role would religion as a simple story play? What role do stories have?
These questions aren’t just interesting in general, but also in connection with Ana’s chosen career path and her insistence to continue not for the need of money but out of its importance. And then there is the Hardy quote chosen by Christian about ladies reading books that tell them about the dangers of the world. Again the question of the importance of stories here.
In the next post we’ll explore the middle panel in greater detail.
Crissy and Aviva