This Thing of Darkness: Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness

By Richard Paul Hamilton; Margaret Sönser Breen | Go to book overview

Three
A Visual Theology of Evil and Redemption?
Watts Eve Trilogy and Burne-Jones's Altarpiece of
The Nativity

Kathy M. Bullough

This chapter focuses on four nineteenth-century paintings: She Shall be Called Woman (c. 1875–1892, Figure 1), Eve Tempted (exhibited 1884, Figure 2) and Eve Repentant (c. 1865–1897, Figure 3) by George Frederick Watts (1817–1904) and an altarpiece by Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898), The Nativity, The Annunciation, Visitation and the Flight into Egypt (1862–1863, Figure 4). Watts was an artist on the periphery of the Pre-Raphaelite circle and was introduced to Burne-Jones by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. A recent Tate Gallery exhibition entitled “The Age of Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Watts” associated these three artists with the emergence of a distinctive British style of Symbolism which utilizes images and symbols to explore emotions, feelings, and the interchange of ideas.1

The figure of Eve is synonymous with sin, evil, death, and the dangers of feminine sexuality. For centuries, Eve, the first woman of the Judeo-Christian tradition, has functioned as a powerful cultural image that promotes an association between femininity and the origin of evil. I will begin this chapter with an examination of the representation of Eve in the work of George Frederick Watts, focusing on his use of iconography to assess how far his portrayal of Eve is consistent with traditional Christian ideas of the Fall. I will then focus on the Virgin Mary who, as Second Eve, corrected Eve's sin. I will discuss the doctrine of Mary's virginitas in partu, the idea that she bore Christ without alteration to her virginity. Drawing on theological parallels between Eve and Mary, this chapter explores how Eve's introduction of sin and death condemned her to suffer the pain of childbirth whereas, through her reversal of Eve's curse, the Virgin Mary experiences a painless parturition.


1. George Frederick Watts, She Shall be Called Woman
(c. 1875–1892)
Oil on canvas, 2578 x 1168 mm. Tate, London 2000.

In She Shall be Called Woman the spectator is confronted with an ethereal image of the first woman emerging from a whirl of powerful natural imagery. The painting uses traditional motifs of innocence and fertility to symbolize the perfection and beauty of the pre-Fall woman. The lily and the dove in the bottom left of the painting are motifs traditionally

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