Signed in image, below figures: A. Bloemaert invt./J. Saenredam Sculp. 6 Inscribed in plate, below image: Hornâ fruge Cain, lecto que aram imbuit agno/Gratus Abel: Tum felle Cain accensus, et ira,/Sanguine fraterno terram inces favit avitam:/Heu lessum faciunt natorum in coede parentes!/ T Sereuelius (?)
Collector's marks: Inscribed in brown ink, below image, l.r.: WE. [monogram of William Esdaile, Lugt 2617}; (verso) l.l.: WE [same monogram]; in graphite, c.c.: c/a Leith/Nov.12/1840 [inscription by Bindon Blood, Lugt 3011]
This engraving is a vertical format. Dominating the foreground are three figures on a slight hill with a large tree. In front of the tree is the corpse of Abel (a strong young man with flowing cloth around his waist) with his head in the shadows. Kneeling over him are Adam and Eve. Adam, a muscular older man with a white beard, clutches his hands together and leans toward his dead son. Eve, covered only from the waist down, throws her arms out in the air above her son and moves towards him on her knees. The tree behind them has a sturdy trunk that splits into three heavy branches and these limbs echo the placement of Eve's back and right arm. On the right is a road leading to a background scene.In the far background Cain and Abel are shown making offerings to God on altars, with Abel’s offering rising higher than Cain’s. In the middle ground along the road, Cain is shown raising a weapon to kill Abel. At the bottom of the work are four lines of text and a signature.
Derived from the Old Testament story (Genesis 4) of the death of Abel at Cain’s hands, Saenredam imagines the moment when Adam and Eve find the corpse of their youngest son. In the background, along a path leading to the corpse, two scenes that precede the main scene are visible. In the very back, Cain and Abel bring offerings to God on separate altars, and only Abel’s offering rises into the air showing that it is pleasing to God. The next scene along the path shows Cain raising a weapon in the air to murder his struggling brother. In the foreground, only Adam, Eve, and Abel’s corpse are visible: Cain is nowhere to be seen. The fact that the figures are clothed—albeit scantily—alludes to Genesis 3 where Adam and Eve committed what Christians interpret as the Original Sin by eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As a result of Original Sin, Adam and Eve suddenly had shame at their naked bodies. Adam and Eve must no doubt feel some responsibility in the death of their son, as their Original Sin made sin in Cain possible. This trio of figures also evokes a lamentation over Christ's body. Perhaps the absence of Cain is meant to remind the viewer of the ultimate guilt of Adam and Eve.