"Blessed be the time/ That apple taken was,/ Therefore we moun singen./ Deo gratias!"
--Adam Lay ybounden, 15th century Middle-English text,
possibly belonging to a wandering minstrel
For much of this month, I have been working on a painting of "Eve," a well-known character from the Bible. It is also a portrait commission. You can read more about that in an earlier blog post, "Poems About Painting: Part 4."
Rather than using Genesis as my poetic inspiration, I have been referring to "Adam Lay Ybounden," a 15th-century Middle English text (and song). It tells about a concept from medieval theology, called limbus patrum. According to limbus patrum, Adam was supposed to have been kept in bonds for thousands of years after his death, waiting for Christ. The idea gave me the shivers, much like imagining a vampire, waiting in his coffin. I felt there was material for a creative project, a fantasy-novel perhaps, or (most definitely) an oil painting.
Here's my art studio. It may just look like the corner of a small room, but it's something. Art really happens here.
The original music for "Adam lay ybounden" was lost. However, since then, many people have created new music for it, and you can listen to some beautiful versions on you-tube. One of my favorite versions is performed by the band, "Faun."
Another great version is the movement "Deo Gratias" from Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols. Incidentally, the model for my painting, Heather Petrie, is a professional opera singer, and at the time of the painting, she was in the Etherea Vocal Ensemble, singing this same version by Benjamin Britten. You can hear their performance here.
The gist of the song is that Adam lay all bound-up, all because of the apple he took. But, the song insists, Eve's fault was actually a blessing, because, if the apple hadn't been taken, then "Our Ladie" (Mary) would never have been heaven's queen. So, all's well that ends well.
In addition to the concept of felix culpa (blessed fault), this painting is about Choice. My thought is that Eve made her choice willingly, knowing full well what was at stake. We see her in my painting, meeting our gaze, satisfied and almost smirking. She is without shame: alluring, not shy. She has made her choice, intellectually, and she is pleased with it. Now she is offering it to you, the viewer.
Below is the text from Adam lay ybounden, converted from Middle-English into something a bit more legible for the modern reader:
Adam lay ybounden,
Bounden in a bond;
Four thousand winter,
Thought he not too long.
And all was for an apple,
An apple that he took.
As clerkes finden,
Written in their book.
Ne had the apple taken been,
The apple taken been,
Ne had never our ladie,
Abeen heav'ne queen.
Blessed be the time
That apple taken was,
Therefore we moun singen.
A progression of Eve's: