BRUEGHEL, Jan the Elder
(b. ca. 1568, Bruxelles, d. 1625, Antwerpen)

Garden of Eden

1612
Oil on copper, 50,3 x 80,1 cm
Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome

Jan, the son of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, was in Rome between 1593 and 1594. He is chiefly famous for his extremely sumptuous floral compositions, for his Allegories of the Senses, the Elements, and the Seasons, and for his landscapes with windmills, woodland paths, forests, villages, and markets, depicted in meticulous detail, and marked by a finely balanced succession of planes of perspective that lead the eye from the verdant wings toward the hazy blues of the distant mountains.

A very large number of his works are views of the Garden of Eden (around 106 versions are known). Outstanding among them, along with this painting, are the ones in Budapest, at Hampton Court, and in the Louvre. Several of the motifs, such as the white horse on the left, or the leopards on the right, are derived from the works of Peter Paul Rubens, with whom the artist sometimes collaborated. There are many creatures in the picture: wild beasts alongside domestic animals, exotic birds on the branches and water birds in the pool, overhung by a bough from which dangle not only monkeys but the tail of a peacock, while two goats try to reach the buds of the roses that wind around the trunk of a pear tree, with cats hidden amongst its foliage. They are all represented in pairs, in an apparent reference to their entry into the Ark, while the tiny figures of Adam and Eve, in the background on the left, evoke the moment of temptation.