Bernward Doors

Hildesheim - Bernwardstor Sündenfall

This is one of the panels from the Bernward Doors at St. Mary’s Cathedral, at Hildesheim (I have never been there so I took this image from flickr). I think it is amazing, and this is why:

First there is a technical achievement that is remarkable in itself. Each door was carved out of a single piece of bronze, these people were not just blending little frames together (we are talking about bronze doors that were carved in the 11th century and are about 16 feet tall!).

Still what interests me way more than those technical accomplishments are the panels, and especially the fourth panel from the left door (left door from my perspective, not from the door’s perspective). You can see God at the far left, pointing at Adam and scolding him for having eaten the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge (right next to Adam). Adam makes a “it was not me” face and shamelessly points at Eve while swiftly turning around. You can almost hear him saying “It was HER fault, she made me do it!”. Eve now points at the serpent, saying “dude what are you talking about? The snake made me do it!”. The serpent ends this chain of blame by angrily looking at Eve, in a sort of “Oh… SHUT UP!” way.

I love it because we are used to art expressing the “human condition” in terms of pain, love, death, etc; but I feel this one is original at vividly expressing a less charming or less heroic human condition: the tendency we have to blame someone else whenever things go wrong. To add to the awesomeness notice how the characters bend more as that chain of blame goes forward: the knees and the back of Adam are slightly bent and that posture is exaggerated when we reach Eve. So we get closer to the ground as we go from God to the serpent.

And speaking of this passage, I like the idea (not mine by the way) that the serpent is the first one to bring forth the possibility of an interpretation, or the idea that words can have multiple meanings. When the serpent says (Gen 3,4):

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

What he is implying is “God did not mean what you think he meant, I will explain to you what is really going on…”. And thus psychoanalysis started.

Just kidding.

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