In this virtuoso engraving, Dürer portrayed the fateful moment in Paradise when Eve offered Adam the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, given to her by the serpent. The tension between Adam and Eve echoes that between the helpless mouse and the cat preparing to pounce—with Eve as predator and Adam as prey. The cat could signify a feline temptress, with its curling tail suggestive of the serpent. According to medieval writings, the cat also represented choler, one of the four human temperaments, described as cruel, hotheaded, and feminine. The other three temperaments—phlegmatic, sanguine, and melancholic—are symbolized by the bull, rabbit, and elk, respectively.
Rachael Z. DeLue et al., Cézanne and the Modern: masterworks of European art from the Pearlman Collection, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Art Museum; New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014).