The Fall of Man

Hendrick Goltzius, The Fall of Man, 1616. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

A classic early Baroque painting, The Fall of Man is an example of what made the style so compelling. The Counter-Reformation Council of Trent called for artists to engage the people in biblical stories in a direct and emotional manner to try to win them back to Catholicism. The aristocracy saw the opulent Baroque style of as a means of displaying their wealth and power. It was a win-win!

Goltzius chose to explore the seduction in the Garden of Eden—the moment before the eating of the apple—instead of the more common post-eating scene of shame and exile. The animal symbolism reinforces the story’s moral: the snake in the tree has the head of a woman, the goats also symbolize women, and the cat gazes out at the audience, reminding viewers to restrain their physical appetites.


A gathering of Catholic church leaders in Trento, Italy; in dozens of sessions between 1545 and 1563 bishops debated doctrinal points and set off the Catholic Counter-Reformation.

The Roman Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation's emphasis on scripture over ritual, works, and hierarchy.

general condition of living away from ones homeland or specifically the Babylonian captivity

A sixteenth-century movement in Europe that questioned the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

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