(b. 1530, Mechelen, d. 1579, Antwerpen)
The Garden of Eden or Love1567
White stone, 20 x 83,5 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels
In the centre of the elongated relief stands God the Father, dressed in a long robe, between Adam and Eve. He is blessing the naked human pair and placing their hands together. The scene takes place in the garden of Eden. In the two wooded side scenes are all kinds of animals, both wild and domesticated, always in pairs: to the left elephants, dromedaries, boars, sheep and lions, to the right deer, lionesses, cattle and wolves. The composition is framed by trees in high relief that impart a balanced rhythm to the frieze. Their trunks are flexible and realistically carved, whilst the leafwork that runs along the upper edge serves to border the tableau. The domestic trees are interspersed, in the middle ground, with exotic palms. Very classically conceived are the two naked figures, sculpted in high relief. Adam is lean and muscled, Eve is somewhat softer, with her long hair hanging down in waves over her back. The relatively small heads are expressively detailed. These figures are strikingly monumental and spontaneous at the same time. This scene is a prefiguration of the sacrament of marriage. Not only the hieratic gesture of the God the Father, and Adam and Eve's joined hands, but also the depiction of the paradise animals, two by two, refer to the God-willed lifelong community between husband and wife.
Research has shown that the unsigned and undated work very likely comes from De Liefde, the house that leading sculptor and medallist Guillielmus Paludanus (original name: Willem van den Broecke) built in 1567 on the Korte Vaartstraat in Antwerp. The relief was almost certainly part of a chimney mantelpiece, carrying three texts from the Old and New Testament, relating to the virtue of love. The excellent artistic qualities of the frieze point to Paludanus' mastery and are also proof of his authorship. Only a few works have been identified from this artist, who, after his apprenticeship in Mechelen and a journey to Italy, was enrolled in 1559 as a master in the Antwerp Guild of St Luke. He was internationally famous for his monumental sculptures, but it is almost exclusively his minutiously detailed small works, like this relief, that have remained conserved until today.