Adam Digging and Eve Spinning
This month’s panel, now in the north transept rose window at Lincoln Cathedral, [Fig. 1] is a stunning example of early 13th-century glass-painting, and evokes the curse of labour inflicted upon the first man and woman, as described in the Old Testament book of Genesis.
The medallion shows Adam digging the soil with a spade and Eve spinning with a distaff. As with much stained glass from this period, blue and ruby are the predominant colours. White glass has been used minimally but to great effect in highlighting concentrated areas of colour. Adam, to the left, is bare-chested and holds a long spade on which his left foot rests as he digs the ground. A hind leg can be seen dangling from an animal skin around his waist. [Fig. 2] To the right is Eve; she wears a cloth to cover the lower half of her body and sits on a green mound spinning with a distaff in her left hand. [Fig. 3] The medieval glass-painter has emphasised the humanity of the first man and woman by accentuating Adam’s sternum, arm sinews and leg muscles, and Eve’s ribcage, muscles and breasts. In between Adam and Eve stands a tall nimbed figure formed of composite pieces of white glass. [Fig. 4] The identity of this figure has been much discussed. Charles Winston and Philip Nelson believed the figure to be an angel, while Christopher Woodforde thought it might be an image of God. Jean Lafond suggested that it might show Cain tilling the ground alongside his father. Nigel Morgan, however, demonstrated that the figure was almost certainly intended to represent an angel and that the outline of an angel’s wings can be seen in the lead lines.
The textual source for the scene of the angel instructing Adam and Eve is apocryphal. The Archangel Michael instructing Adam to till the soil is included in the Latin text of Vita Adae et Evae, versions of which date from the eighth century. It was a popular subject in the Middle Ages and was widely depicted in medieval manuscript illuminations, wall paintings and stained glass. The angel is either shown giving Adam and Eve tools; demonstrating work with the tools; or simply speaking to Adam and Eve. The Lincoln medallion depicts an angel showing Adam how to till the ground. The angel is shown with one foot resting on a spade in the same manner as Adam. A miniature painting in Ælfric’s Hexateuch (British Library, Cotton Claudius MS B.IV, f.7v) dated c.1025–1050 includes a scene where the archangel Michael instructs Adam and Eve in the skill of agriculture [view an image of this at British Library Images Online: http://www.imagesonline.bl.uk/results.asp?image=011945 ]; as does the St Louis Psalter, Leyden (MS Lat. 76A, f.9r).
In the parish church at East Meon, Hampshire, a sculptural relief carved into the north side of the Tournai font c.1130–1140 shows an angel instructing Adam to dig and Eve to spin flax. [Fig. 5] Although such comparisons exist in several media, the Lincoln medallion is a rare survival of the scene in stained glass of this early date. Scenes of Adam and Eve’s labour without the figure of an angel are more commonplace. 15th-century wall paintings at churches at Bledlow, Buckinghamshire and on the south wall of the nave at Broughton, Cambridgeshire show the first man and woman labouring. [Fig. 6] At Broughton this scene is accompanied by a painting of the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Images of the labour of Adam and Eve often accompanied the preceding event of the Expulsion. Some 15th-century panels of stained glass, now in two parish churches in Norfolk, once formed such a narrative. Panels in the east window of St Mary Magdalene Church, Mulbarton, Norfolk, show the Expulsion and Adam digging [Figs. 7 and 8] and were originally part of an Old Testament series in Martham Church. These panels were brought from Martham to Mulbarton church by Revd Spurgeon and inserted in 1815. The south aisle east window at Martham still retains the figure of Eve spinning. [Fig. 9]
The muscular figure of Adam in the Lincoln medallion has often been compared with the well-known figure of ‘Adam Delving’, part of the early glazing scheme at Canterbury Cathedral (NXXV). [Fig. 10] Dated after 1176–77, the Canterbury Adam is the first in a series of single figures depicting the ancestors of Christ in the Clerestory glazing. He is shown digging with his body poised in a similar manner to the Lincoln medallion with his right arm bent and one foot on the spade and is clothed in a similar garment made of animal skin. A stained glass medallion at Normée (Marne), France, c.1175 and almost contemporary with the Canterbury Adam, provides perhaps the best comparison with the Lincoln scene. [Fig. 11]
The composition of Adam and Eve is strikingly similar although the third angel figure is absent at Normée. The style of the Lincoln medallion is characteristic of the 13th-century transition from classical forms to more elongated figures. The Guthlac Roll (British Library, Harley Roll, Y.6), thought to have originated in Lincolnshire c.1200, is similar in style [view an image of this at British Library Images Online: http://www.imagesonline.bl.uk/results.asp?image=005350 ]. The narrow border and developed figure style in the Adam and Eve medallion suggest that it was executed slightly later than the Dean’s Eye glazing, perhaps around 1240.
Religious Context and Meaning
Adam’s spade and Eve’s distaff symbolise God’s treatment of mankind as described in Genesis. After they took bites of the apple from the tree of all knowledge, God’s punishment was to inflict the curse of childbirth pain upon Eve and to make Adam toil the land: ‘Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return’ (Genesis, 3:17–19. New International Version). In the 13th-century the Dominican friar Vincent of Beauvais (c.1190–c.1264), author of Speculum Doctrinale, instructed that ‘manual labour delivers man from the necessities to which since the Fall his body is subject, while Instruction delivers him from the ignorance which has weighed down his soul’ (Speculum Doctrinale, I, ix. Quoted by Mâle, 1913: 64). Medieval representations of Adam tilling the soil and Eve spinning or suckling a child were intended as reminders of the first human sin, and that labour is a duty which we must perform faithfully. Adam’s first sin also prefigures Christ’s redemption and this is another aspect with which we can consider the Lincoln medallion. Emile Mâle considered the aims of the 13th-century artist to ‘teach that Christ was the second Adam who had come into the world to wipe out the guilt of the first Adam’. (Mâle, 1913: 186)
Architectural Context and Provenance
The two medieval rose windows in Lincoln Cathedral were originally glazed in the early years of the 13th century, by 1220–1235. Both contained scenes from the Last Judgement. The south rose window or ‘Bishop’s Eye’ was replaced c.1330 with flowing tracery. Only fragments of its original glazing remain; the rose is now filled with a collection of medieval stained glass fragments inserted in the 18th century. Although the north rose, known as the Dean’s Eye, retains much of its original glass, [Fig. 12] it also contains panels from elsewhere. As well as the Adam and Eve medallion, figures of bishops and archbishops in quatrefoils, scenes from the lives of the saints and other Old Testament and typological windows have found their way into the Dean’s Eye. Lafond and Morgan suggested that these were inserted in c.1760–1790 as part of a general rearrangement of glass at the Cathedral. The scene of Adam and Eve probably replaced a scene showing the resurrection of the dead (as on the opposite side of the rose). With the exception of Adam and Eve, these inserted medallions are all between 48 and 52cm in diameter and, as Charles Winston suggested, may have formed part of the original glazing of the choir. The Adam and Eve medallion is clearly unrelated to these other inserted pieces; with a diameter of 78cm it is almost twice as broad as the other medallions in the window and has a much narrower border. It is not known which part of the Cathedral’s original glazing scheme the Adam and Eve medallion came from. Other examples of Adam and Eve labouring usually appear as part of a narrative sequence or typological series; the Lincoln medallion may also have been part of a typological series, although Jean Lafond did not think it came from the same typological series as the other inserted medallions in the Dean’s Eye. Much of the glass in the medallion is original, although some pieces which form the angel’s face and body have been inserted later as some of these are clearly architectural details. The lower portions of the central angel are original; his feet are in the same red-brown tinted glass as Adam and Eve’s. The Adam and Eve medallion has survived the servants of Dean Fitzhugh (1483–1505) who shot arrows and cross-bow quarrels at the windows, as well as the sacking of the Cathedral during civil wars. In 1855 the medallion, along with the other glass in the north rose, was re-leaded by the Victorian firm Ward and Hughes. The stonework was reset during this time but no restoration work took place. The panel has been heavily cleaned over the years.
Whenever the medallions were inserted, it is clear that the glazier responsible was particular about choosing and arranging the additional glass. All the scenes in the Dean’s Eye have a bright blue background with decorative borders of predominantly ruby and white glass. From a distance the window has such a harmonious effect that it could easily be mistaken as a complete original arrangement [see Fig. 12]. The Adam and Eve medallion may have depicted an Adam-Christ typology in a typological window, or could have been part of an Old Testament narrative medallion window at Lincoln Cathedral. It is an important early survival of the iconography of the Angel instructing Adam and Eve to labour, in stained glass.
For Lincoln glass:
- J. Lafond. ‘The Stained Glass Decoration of Lincoln Cathedral in the Thirteenth Century’, The Archaeological Journal, 103, 1946/4, 119–157
- N. J. Morgan. The Medieval Painted Glass of Lincoln Cathedral, CVMA Occasional Papers, 3, Oxford University Press, 1983
- P. Nelson. Ancient Painted Glass in England 1170–1500, London, 1913
- C. Winston. ‘An Account of the Painted Glass in Lincoln Cathedral and Southwell Minster: with some general remarks on glass-painting’, Proceedings of the Archæological Institute at the Annual Meeting at Lincoln, 1848, in Memoirs Illustrative of the Art of Glass-Painting, London, 1865, 77–105
- C. Winston. ‘On the Glazing of the North Rose Window of Lincoln Cathedral’, Archaeological Journal, 14, 1857, in Memoirs Illustrative of the Art of Glass-Painting, London, 1865, 222–230
- N.J.H Westlake. A History of Design in Painted Glass, 2 Vols.
- C. Woodforde. A Guide to the Medieval Glass in Lincoln Cathedral, London, 1933
For Canterbury glass:
- M. H. Caviness. The Early Stained Glass of Canterbury Cathedral circa 1175–1220, Princeton, 1977
- M. H. Caviness. The Windows of Christ Church Cathedral Canterbury, CVMA Great Britain 2: Oxford University Press, 1981, 17–18
For Normée glass:
- L. Gordecki. Le Vitrail Roman, Fribourg, 1977
- Musée des arts décoratifs, France, Le Vitrail Français, Paris, 1958
- Les Vitraux de Champagne-Ardenne, CVMA France Recensement IV, 1992, 367–368
- Musée de l’Orangerie. L’art en Champagne au Moyen Age, Paris, 1959, No. 113, 59–60