Earthly Paradise

Earthly Paradise, 1612, Jan Bruegel the Elder, Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome
Earthly Paradise, 1612, Jan Bruegel the Elder, Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome

In this painting the artist has as usual relegated to the background the principal episode, namely the original sin of Adam and Eve, who are depicted in very small size, while using the principal space to spread out before us the rich bestiary of the earthly paradise. The numerous spatial planes therefore fuse in the swarms of animals and the disordered growth of the plants, resulting in a vision that is the utter antithesis of the contemporary landscape pictures then being painted in Italy, which are orderly, with perfect perspective and consisting of a few recurring topics.

The work of Bruegel is characterized by a selection of animals and plants worthy of a real “Wunderkammer” and is in a finely detailed micrographic style. Its influence was very widespread amongst contemporary artists, creating a current of imitators who replicated serially the allegorical and simply decorative themes employed with undeniable fascination by the master.

Bruegel’s work links in with the earliest stages of the still life. This began with the arrival in Italy of artists from the Low Countries and the northern propensity to depict nature with scientific attention and an encyclopaedic taste.

The Doria Pamphilj Gallery houses various works by Jan ‘Velvets’ Bruegel; he was an artist who was extremely popular among collectors in Italy after his visit to Rome in the years 1591-95 and his subsequent stay in Milan at the house of cardinal Federico Borromeo.

The painting, signed and dated 1612, displays close stylistic and compositional affinities with “The Embarkation onto Noah’s Ark” (at present in a private collection), a work signed and dated 1613.

In this second panel are in fact repeated, identically or with small variations, many of the animals which appear in the Earthly Paradise, such as the couple of lions, the couple of leopards, the oxen, and the horse, which are therefore evidence of the artist’s reuse of a fixed repertoire of animals on which he drew for his compositions, adding a few variable elements. The two leopards on the right of the picture in particular are taken from a picture by Rubens, portraying “A Satyr and a Nymph”, perhaps executed around 1611.

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