QUESTION: Why do paintings of Adam and Eve have belly buttons? (Asked by a student interested in art.)
REPLY: This has biblical connotations, for which I get into trouble by mixing things up. But I have a lady column reader in Clinton who reads the Bible every day and keeps me straight. Besides, the Curiosity Corner boldly goes where no column has gone before. (I know, split infinitive.)
As we all know, the umbilicus (a.k.a. navel or belly button) is the normal depression that eventually forms as a result of the removal of the umbilical cord from a newborn. The umbilical cord is the life line of the fetus, with the umbilical vein supplying oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood from the mother. Conversely, deoxygenated and nutrient-deleted blood is pumped back through a couple of arteries. On being born, this exchange is no longer normally needed in natural childbirth.
So, the question is, did Adam and Eve have natural childbirth (and get belly buttons as depicted in various paintings)?
Biblically, the answer would appear to be no: (Gen. 2.7, KJV), “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
Eve came along a couple verses later (Gen. 21-22): “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept; and he took one of ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.” No natural childbirth here for either, so no biblical belly buttons.”
(Incidentally, Adam’s rib must have grown back… men don’t have one less rib as sometimes believed. Both men and women have 24 ribs.)
Yet, artists depict otherwise. In Michelangelo’s painting, The Creation of Adam, on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, God is holding out his finger to Adam who has an obvious navel. Similarly, Adam and Eve have navels in other famous painting such as those by Rubens and Düere. Why is this? I don’t know. Maybe they were using models and overlooked the biblical interpretation. I read where some theologians were a bit upset because of this.
In any case, this column reminded me of a poem by my favorite poet, Robert Service (1874 – 1958), wrote such thrilling Yukon verses as “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” and “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” (I like him because he rhymes.) Service bridged the biblical and artistic gap in his poem, “A Sourdough Story.” Basically, an old Sourdough goes to heaven and has to solve a riddle to get in.
In short, St. Peter said there “is one whose name is known to Fame – it’s Adam, first of mortals…. Well there’s the gate. – To crash it straight, just spy the guy that’s Adam.”
The old Sourdough went down the row of greybeards ruminatin’.
With optics dim the peered at him, and pressed against the gratin’.
In every face he sought some trace of our ancestral father;
But though he stared, he soon despaired the faintest clue to gather.
Then suddenly he whooped with glee: “Ha! Ha! An inspiration.”
And to and fro along the row he ran with animation.
To Peter, bold he cried: “Behold, all told there are eleven.
Suppose I fix on Number Six! How’s that for Heaven?”
“By gosh you win,” said Pete. “Step in. But tell me how you chose him.
They’re like as pins, all might be twins. There’s nothing to disclose him.
The Sourdough said: “Twas hard; my head was seething with commotion.
I felt a dunce; then all at once I had a gorgeous notion.
I stoop and peered beneath each beard that dropped like fleece of mutton.
My search was crowned… That bird I found – ain’t got no belly button.”
C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): “Conversation between Adam and Eve must have been difficult at times because they had nobody to talk about.” -Agnes Repplier