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The subject is taken from the Bible (Genesis 3:23). On the left, Adam, the first man, is digging with a spade – 'tilling the ground from whence he came' – after his expulsion from the Garden of Eden. On the right, her back to a tree, Eve, the first woman, sits spinning, with a dog and a young child (presumably their younger son, Abel) at her knee. In the centre, a figure (presumably their elder son, Cain) is gathering sticks to make a fire. In its handling of light and colour, the painting betrays the strong influence of 16th-century Venetian art, especially that of Titian, whose works Cano could have seen in the Spanish royal collection. While the landscape is entirely characteristic of Cano, the figures are taken directly from an engraving (of portrait format) by the Netherlandish artist Jan Saenredam (1565–1607), after a composition by his compatriot Abraham Bloemaert (1564–1651).
The First Labours of Adam and Eve
oil on canvas
H 164.5 x W 203.8 cm
Stirling Maxwell Collection, gift, 1967