The Woman, the Man, and the Serpent

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The Woman, the Man, and the Serpent, 1911.

The Woman, the Man, and the Serpent is an oil painting by John Liston Byam Shaw, finished in 1911. It is a depiction of Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden with the Serpent in the background.

I found this painting to be incredibly striking the moment I saw it. Eve, standing in a sensual pose is center stage with her pale nude skin standing out from the dark red flowers around her while Adam, flexing a fist, is almost an afterthought behind her. Although the serpent's head is fairly conspicuous, his coiled body in the top left is not as obvious. Also, since this is the Garden of Eden, colorful tropical birds are hidden among the flowers and decorate the scene. Eve is a paragon of femininity with her athletic body that still has wide child-bearing hips, and she stands seductively in front of Adam, perhaps tempting him to eat the fruit of knowledge of good and evil (though none is present). It was still uncommon in the early 1900s for artists to include body hair on their nude women, but Shaw gave Eve a wisp of blonde public hair, which is interesting.

Like most paintings that feature nude women, I wonder if this painting was created for the sake of art, or if it was simply an artistic veneer over pornography. I certainly find it erotic, but I also have to marvel at the quality in the painting's composition.


I have found two different photos of this painting. One appears to be color-corrected, but shows damage on the right side. The other doesn't show damage, but is more drab. The paintings are nearly identical, but I do notice that the Shaw's signature on the bottom left looks different, suggesting different paintings.