Anon., Flemish school
Paradise on Earth

17th century
Oil on canvas
103 x 125.5

Inv. D.2009.4.3

On loan – private collection

Major works | Earthly & Spiritual Matters

Strange animals

In this Paradise on Earth, the story of Adam and Eve is told in four stages: the creation of Adam on the right, and then Eve behind the tree, out of Adam’s rib, temptation and the original sin in the middle and the banishment from Paradise on the left. This subject is a pretext for depicting all sorts of animals. Prey and predators roam about the same space. Disseminated across the scene, real or imaginary, fowl, whales, felines, bears, dogs, monkeys, rabbits and chickens all crowd in around Adam and Eve. The painter offers us a most astonishing bestiary, such as this primly mannered horse or squirrel-like creature carrying its offspring. As for the lions, they have been given most peculiar features – with human expressions.

The animals in this painting can be compared with an engraving, also in the museum’s collections, of Orpheus charming the animals by Nicolas de Bruyn (Antwerp, 1565 or 1571 – Amsterdam, 1652). Indeed, the stylistic similarity particularly for the dogs and lions is quite striking. A little-known artist to the general public, Nicolas de Bruyn did his apprenticeship with his father Abraham, an engraver and painter, before going to Amsterdam where he worked with such Flemish painters as Gilles van Connixloo (Antwerp, 1544 – Amsterdam, 1607) and David Vinckboons (Mechelen, 1576 – Amsterdam, 1632). A prolific engraver, he not only reproduced works by the artists above as well as as Martin de Vos and Lucas van Leyde, but also, and what is more surprising, his own. de Bruyn did not limit himself to engraving but also painted. Given the information we have available to date, we might suppose that our painter had access to the engraving to carry out this picture.