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The Desire To Sin Against The Desire of Innocence:  Cecco Bravo's 'Eva Temptada'

The Desire To Sin Against The Desire of Innocence: Cecco Bravo's 'Eva Temptada'

'Eva Temptada', Cecco Bravo, 17th Century, Oil on Canvas (109 x 42.2cm)

During a recent trip to Barcelona, I decided to pay the Museu Nacional D'Art De Catalunya a visit. Here, I found myself attached to a rather peculiar painting. Strangely, it wasn't painted by anyone of notable importance, yet there was something about it that struck me.  Eva Temptada (Temptation of Eve) is a 17th Century Painting by the Italian painter Francesco Montelatici, more commonly known as Cecco Bravo (Florence, 1607 – Innsbruck, 1661). Although Bravo was an artist from the Baroque period, his painting Eva Temptada portrays minimal grandeur and instead, delicately evokes emotions such as guilt, iniquity and shamefulness while also questioning philosophical issues regarding morality and human behavior.

 

Cecco Bravo’s Eva Temptada shows a nude portrait of Eve. Eve is represented as a naturalistic and curvy woman who shies away from Bravo as well as the audience. This is seen through her body language as her hips are twisted off axis is seen standing in Contrapposto, creating dimensionality and fluidity in her posture. Thus, perpetually moving away from the audience. Her entire left side appears to be disappearing into the indefinite darkness.

The woman also appears to be looking over her right shoulder and onto the ground while she covers her pelvic region with her left hand. Eve’s lowered shoulders coupled with her facial expression further emphasize a sense embarrassment and guilt. Furthermore, Bravo uses a pastel off-white color to record the woman’s pale skin tone, but cleverly uses a hint of pink on her visible cheek to record her flustered embarrassment and shame. The painting itself appears to be immersed in murkiness due to the oil paint used, creating an air of fogginess and mystery. It was as if the painting was part of my vague imagination.

By portraying Eve individually, Bravo not only presents social, political and cultural values of the 17th Century but he artfully questions humanity by poising the question of whether it is human nature for man to desire sin, or whether it is human nature for man to desire innocence and purity. He does so by presenting the juxtaposition of a sexual subject (Eve), while contrastingly sharing a subject of purity (apple).

Bravo’s painting feels inviting, and as a viewer, I am encouraged to be a part of its space and the scene it creates. Regardless of the painter’s use of dark colors and the context of the painting, it still manages to appear somewhat warm and harmonious. I felt that the use of the colors green and orange creates a calming and soothing effect. In addition, Bravo’s soft and blurred strokes as well as the texture of oil paints add to its dreamlike quality since one is able to actually see the painting protrude on certain areas due to the various thicknesses of paints applied. In the right hand corner of the painting, one will notice an angular crease though I am still unsure to whether it is the crease of a carpet or merely uneven terrain. The way it is incomplete, angulated and disappears into the corner of the frame creates a sense of perspective and as a result, draws the audience into the painting’s space. When looking at Eva Temptada, I began to envision continuous carpet or soil that would merge into the museum as my mind would complete its partiality though it was a window leading into a new reality I could step into. 

 

Cecco Bravo’s painting felt uncomfortable, yet oddly inviting. I felt contradicting emotions when looking at Eve since I was completely aware that the painting was erotic and hence, an immoral act for me to look at her. Albeit, I was tempted to look at her sexual innocence and explore my curiosity because of how I felt unsure about what exactly she is shying away from.  Contrastingly, the more I looked at her, the more I began to sympathize with her emotions. I was able to feel her embarrassment and guilt and felt as if I should clothe her. I felt that as a viewer, I should not just stand here and watch from afar but rather enter her space in order to both clothe her and stop her temptation from eating the forbidden fruit.

When looking at the painting, I muse over a scene of warmth, quietness and eeriness while smelling aged mahogany and musky perfume. Bravo successfully transports me into an entirely new setting of grandeur architecture. There appears to be no angular lines and shapes around the subject of the painting but instead, curvy, circular and smooth lines created by Bravo’s gentle strokes, adding to the overall warmth of the painting. Strangely, I also see myself watching Cecco bravo painting in his studio while a shy and embarrassed young woman models for him. This is why I am in constant confusion in whether the crease visible in the bottom right hand corner of the portrait is the crease of a carpet or if it is a graze in the soil. Maybe instead this is a flaw of Bravo’s painting as if he was unable to transport his model of Eve into the setting of the myth he intended to recreate. In addition, I began to question the taste of the apple. Though apples are generally sweet and delicious, the fruit depicted in the painting looks rather raw. Though green is relaxing to the eye, the particular shade of green makes me doubt its taste. Moreover, its mixture of orange color lessens its appeal, as monotone fruits are generally more appetizing. One would normally prefer an apple that is entirely green or entirely red whereas a mixture of the two colors is less preferable. In spite of that, I am still no less curious to have a bite of the apple though not the whole thing. This could have been done on purpose by Bravo as it metaphorically describes Eve’s state of mind. While Eve has doubts over the apple, she is still curious about its taste, hence the juxtaposition of an apple with darkness surrounding it. Bravo also choses to refrain from including a bite mark. This adds to the paintings mystery and obscurity because of how the audience is left questioning whether she is ashamed of her sexual body parts after gaining knowledge that she is up for display as a result of eating the apple or whether she is solely pondering over her temptation. Eve is also holding the apple by its stem with four fingers, suggesting uncertainty to what she is about to do or what she has done. 

I stood there staring at the painting for several hours, jotting notes down about how she made me feel. I felt unusual, no one around me was particularly interested in her, as they gave her a mere glance at the very most, but she deserved more.

Suley Azhari

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