Domenichino was trained at the art academy run by the Carracci family in Bologna during the last decades of the sixteenth century. In 1602 he joined his master Annibale Carracci in Rome and assisted him with the fresco decorations of the galleria in the Palazzo Farnese. Subsequently, Domenichino executed major fresco cycles of his own in such Roman churches as San Luigi dei Francesi and Sant'Andrea della Valle, and at the monastery at Grottaferrata. Domenichino also painted altarpieces for churches in Rome and Bologna, smaller private devotional works, and landscapes. After Annibale's mental disorders brought his artistic career to an end about 1604, Domenichino took over his master's studio. In 1631 Domenichino went to Naples, where he spent the last years of his life executing important fresco decorations in the Treasury Chapel of San Gennaro; but his classicizing style did not find favor in the southern city, especially in its artistic community. Domenichino was celebrated throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as the upholder of the classical tradition reestablished in Italian seventeenth-century art by the Carracci family. His art was especially admired by French academic artists; Nicolas Poussin's paintings, for example, owe much of their clear narrative structure to works Domenichino executed in Rome in the mid-to-late 1620s.
The Rebuke of Adam and Eve perfectly illustrates Domenichino's classical style at the peak of his career. In a clear narrative sequence, God the Father, borne by cherubim and angels, descends to rebuke Adam, who blames Eve, who in turn points to the serpent as the cause of their fall from grace. Animals still roam freely in their earthly paradise, but the lion at the right is already metamorphosing from a friendly feline to an aggressive beast. The group of God and the angels is derived directly from Michelangelo's Creation of Adam (Sistine Chapel, ceiling) and should be read as a homage by the seventeenth-century painter to his great predecessor. But Domenichino's treatment of the narrative has an archaic, almost medieval feel, and indeed this subject is unusual in seventeenth-century painting. He may have looked back to the famous late thirteenth-century frescoes by Pietro Cavallini in San Paolo fuori le Mura as a source. Following Italian tradition, Domenichino shows the Tree of Knowledge as a fig tree, rather than the apple tree which was more usual in northern European art. The existence of a full-size preparatory drawing in the Louvre is evidence of the particular care Domenichino devoted to this composition.
Although first recorded in an inventory of the Colonna collection in Rome in 1714, The Rebuke of Adam and Eve is the type of painting done for display in grand picture galleries of the seventeenth century, such as those that still exist in the Palazzo Colonna and other noble houses of Rome.
(Text by Philip Conisbee, published in the National Gallery of Art exhibition catalogue, Art for the Nation, 2000)