Representations of Paradise

Jan Brueghel the Elder, Earth (The Earthly Paradise

The first thing you notice when looking at Jan Brueghel the Elder’s oil on copper painting Earth: The Earthly Paradise (1618) (also known as The Allegory of Earth) is the sheer number of animals taking up the lower half of the composition. Other animals, mainly birds, are spread more sporadically through the top half. There appears to be only one of most of the animals. There are even more beasts hidden within the forest that are only visible upon very close inspection. All of these animals being in the foreground, makes the viewer know immediately that this scene takes place in Eden; only here could all of these creatures coexist peacefully.
There is a border of trees and plants around the painting, and a thick clump of forest in the middle that splits the composition in half. The parts of the forest closest to the foreground are very dark and almost even black in some places. This also makes a horseshoe shape in the center created by the parts of the scene touched by the light and the darkness of the forest. The blog Beauty of Baroque brought to my attention that the strange placement of these light spots almost look like a skull after you step back from it, and the author suggests that “perhaps this is symbolism of the ever present reality of death for mortal beings.” A body of water begins on the left side of the scene and then disappears back into the forest. None of this land has been touched by man. All of the plants are thriving without interference.
To the left is probably the most important part of the scene, hidden away in the background; three figures stand in the middle of a small clearing. These three figures are God, Adam, and Eve. God is pointing at a highlighted tree. This foreshadows Satan tempting Adam and Eve with the fruit and, consequently, the fall of man.

Nicholas Poussin, Spring (The Earthly Paradise)

The second painting I will be exploring is Nicholas Poussin’s Spring (The Earthly Paradise) (1660-1664), which is oil on canvas. This painting is part of a four-part series called The Four Seasons. This painting occupies its own room in the Louvre with the other three seasons (Summer, Autumn, and Winter). These paintings were done for Duc de Richelieu, who was the son of Cardinal Richelieu.
Two people, a man and a woman, are crouched low in the center of the painting. The woman, Eve, is pointing at the fruit hanging on the tree in front of them while attempting to coerce the man, Adam, to stand and follow her. Though a different figure is pointing, this, like the Brueghel painting, foreshadows their expulsion from Eden. This even foreshadows who will be the one to be most entranced by the fruit by Eve being so eager to lead Adam to the tree. God is pictured in the upper right corner, apparently perched on a clump of stormy-looking clouds. His position is similar to the position of God in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, which may be an allusion by the artist to the creation of man. God has his back turned to his children. This represents God giving us all free will to make our own choices. In this case, it is specifically for Adam and Eve choosing to eat the fruit.
The amount of light and dark in this painting is split fairly evenly between the sky and the darkness of the plants around them. Though the land Adam and Eve are on appears to be a flat plain, a mountain can be seen in the background and a small cliff is at the left of the composition. The end of a body of water is in the middle of the painting and it appears to extend off into the distance to the left. Like Earth, the forest is extremely dark and almost scary, which represents how wild and unknown nature is. There is a complete absence of animals in this painting, which is very strange for a painting of Eden. This may be a choice by the artist to make God, Adam, and Eve the only subjects in the composition so that the viewer doesn’t get distracted.
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