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The term prelapsarian designates the period in the Biblical narrative that Adam and Eve spent in the Garden of Eden prior to their expulsion due to Eve's eating of the apple. Called the "fall" or the "lapse" (hence prelapsarian), Eve's consumption of the fruit constituted the original sin of humanity. Similar to evocations of Arcadia and the Golden Age in the pastoral tradition, prelapsarian references made allusion to a period before shame and vice as privileged lost object of the fallen present.

Interestingly, in art discourse during the Renaissance, there frequently appeared a superimposition of this broad narrative onto descriptions of the "discovery" of antique art, resulting in a paradoxical association of ancient sculpture with prelapsarian ethos. As Steinberg explains, Renaissance artists looking to emphasize Christ's innocence in nakedness - his possession of genitalia that were precisely not pudendafound a model for this nudity without shame in classical sculpture: "Christian teaching makes bodily shame no part of man's pristine nature, but attributes it to the corruption brought on by sin. And would not such Christian knowledge direct him [the artist] to the ideality of antique sculpture? Where but in ancient art would he have found the pattern of naked perfection untouched by shame, nude bodies untroubled by modesty? Their unabashed freedom conveyed a possibility which Christian teaching reserved only for Christ and for those who would resurrect in Christ's likeness: the possibility of a human nature without human guilt" (pg. 20). Thus in influential Renaissance accounts of the development of the arts, most notably Vasari's Lives of the Artists, art before Christ is praised as embodied perfection, while art after Christ and before the Quattrocento is condemned for its degeneracy. The deep irony of this evocative, though certainly not theologically rigorous history, of course, is that Christ's incarnation, which in the Biblical narrative was meant to redeem Man for the sins he incurred due to the fall, becomes itself a new type of fall. Ridden with vice, the art of the sub gratia suddenly becomes sub vitia, as it were, while the art of the sub lege becomes the art of an always already lost paradise which vanished, it would appear, upon the coming of Christ.

         

Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve, 1504                                Barbarini Faun, Hellenistic, Late 3rd-early 2nd centuries, BCE

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