There’s no argument that throughout our western art history, visual depiction of the nude form has caused a lot of ruckus. For centuries, I’d say from the Renaissance until maybe around the Industrial Revolution, full nudity was arguably only deemed acceptable if used to portray either religious, mythological or historical scenes—and even then, depending on the context and leverage of those in power (usually the Church), it still generated quite a bit of controversy. Correct me if I’m wrong, but from my understanding the Impressionism movement is when French high-society finally began to accept the idea of a nude form without any of the aforementioned contexts. I guess if one wanted to enjoy the colorful painting by Renoir, then they would just have to accept that the reclining naked lady in the woods was not identified as Venus.
With that in mind, there are always those works which I view and wonder, “Is this a religious scene which features nudity, or a nude study guised as a religious scene?” For me, Solomon Joseph Solomon’s beautiful Eve registers as the latter. Even with the angels and creation of Eve from Adam’s rib, the sensual nude supplied for our female subject has a secular, academic quality which takes the piece in an entirely different direction. Sure, Solomon arrived well past the time when artists were require adhere to the specifications listed above, but I'd like to think he was giving a tip of the hat to that old-fashioned sentiment. I don't know if this piece was commissioned or executed at his creative will, but for me, Eve feels less like the work of a devotedly religious artist but rather the product of more worldly interests. I believe the scene on display is secondary to showcasing the nude, and that's fine by me.
As a religious themed piece, Solomon’s painting does supply an effective narrative, despite its other preoccupations. We have the tiny spur of light from Adam rib, from which our Eve gracefully ascends with the help of two angels, whose wings appear as if they are unveiling her to the viewer, possibly symbolizing the moment of creation. However, the lighting strikes me as curiously erotic, chiefly concerned with her more alluring attributes while casting her face in shadow. Why such mystery if we already know her identity? Simply stated, I believe this nude would be perfectly at home if she were riding a swing amidst some gaudy rococo foliage, maybe even with a mischievous cupid somewhere around the vicinity. That’s not a criticism by any means, but rather an observation.
As with other paintings which depict the Creation of Eve, I love the imagery of a female form rising over a vulnerable male figure. It holds a certain resonance which I find intriguing, and I often wonder how such a scene was received by its intended audience. Along with Judith Beheading Holofernes and possibly Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist, the Creation of Eve is arguably one of the few biblical tales which could be used to visually represent female empowerment, you know, without anyone having lost their head in the process. Whether Solomon’s Eve merely represents a male-idealized female form would likely be the subject of debate, but that’s another discussion.