COUSIN, Jean the Elder
(b. ca. 1495, Soucy, d. ca. 1560, Paris)
Eva Prima Pandorac. 1550
Wood, 97 x 150 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris
The Fontainebleau school as it was represented by Primaticcio and Niccolò dell'Abbate was the central stream of French painting around the mid sixteenth century, but there were artists working in Paris and the provinces who stand to some extent aside from the movement. The most important of these painters is Jean Cousin the Elder whose only work which can with any certainty attributed to him is the Eva Prima Pandora. It differs entirely from anything produced at Fontainebleau in the setting with its rocky cave and dramatic silhouettes of trees, suggesting a knowledge of Leonardo in the use of light and of Dürer's engravings and woodcuts in the forms of the trees.
In Greek mythology Pandora, the 'all-gifted', was fashioned from clay by Vulcan. She was sent to earth by Jupiter and became the wife of Epimetheus. When she opened her box, all the evils which have since beset mankind flew out, and the Golden Age came to an end. Hope alone remained inside. This was Jupiter's punishment to the human race for the theft of fire by Prometheus, the brother of Epimetheus. The early Christian Church drew the parallel between Pandora's story and the Fall of Man, hence she became the pagan counterpart of Eve, and was so depicted by Cousin.