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Jan Brueghel I (or the Elder) (1568 - 1625) (attributed to) - Polyptyque du paradis terrestre

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Very rare sequence of four Flemish oil paintings on copper from the end of the 16th - early 17th century, exceptional preserved condition

Artista: Jan Brueghel de Velours (1568 -1625) attr.
Título de la obra: Polyptyque du Paradis terrestre
Técnica: Huile sur cuivre
Year: 1550-1599, 1600-1649
Firma: Sin firmar
Estado: En buenas condiciones
Tamaño de la imagen (en cm): 29,7 cm x 12,2
Se vende con marco:
Dimensiones totales (en cm): 33 x 15,5
Peso (en kg): 2.0

Rare polyptych attributed to Jan Brueghel de Velours (1568-1625)

- Le paradis terrestre I. Adam et les animaux de la Création.

- Le paradis terrestre II: Dieu bénit Adam et Eve (prolepse de leur mariage par Dieu dans la Genèse)
- Le paradis terrestre III: Dieu met en garde Eve contre la consommation du fruit défendu et de l'arbre de la connaissance du bien et du mal alors qu'Adam est endormi

- Le paradis terrestre IV: Du jardin d'Eden à la montagne : Dieu s'adresse du ciel à Adam et Eve et les expulse

Flemish iconography of paradise

In the period from the 16th century to the 17th century Flemish painters were specialising in the representation of exotic animals containing God's creation under the influence of Roelandt Savery, who had observed the exotic animals at the court of Rudolf II; like Jan Brueghel the Elder by whom several works are related or Maerten de Vos whose 'Corpus paradisiaque' illustrating the "fall of man" in Genesis was engraved in tondo by Philippe Galle and Nicolas de Bruyn, and "Dieu parle à Adam et Eve" by Jean Théodore de Bry.

Corpus Brueghelien
This polyptych (late 16th - early 17th) composed of four oils on copper, as sublime as it is rare, includes the complete narrative biblical scenes and is attributed to Jan Brueghel the Elder, called "de Velours", famous and well listed painter from the lineage of Brueghel; this work is close to the Quatre Élements series commissioned in 1607 by the cardinal-archbishop of Milan, Federico Borromeo, whose "La terre ou le paradis terrestre” has been part of the collections of the Louvre museum since 1616-1618 with L’Air, L’Eau et Le Feu.

Most likely, the hand of the master intervened in these copper paintings (particularly in the end: the treatment of the landscape, as well as most of the animals) with the participation of his studio in various proportions in the representation of the characters (Adam and Eve), a common practice for the greatest artists of this period.

This work is also linked to that of his son, Jan Brueghel the Younger: oil painting on oak panel by Jan Brueghel the Younger: « Le Paradis », c. 1620 exposed at the Gemälde Galerie in Berlin.

Lets quote the most important milestones of Bruegelian dynasty: Jan I Brueghel (alias De Velours or the Elder, 1568 – 1625), the son of Peter Brueghel the Elder. His son, Jan Brueghel the Younger (1601 – 1678) being the grandson of the most famous Brueghel

Le paradis terrestre I. Adam et les animaux de la Création ou La genèse du paysage


First installment of this polyptych painting in four paintings of paradise: Adam et les animaux de la Création.

In this literally wonderful composition, we see Adam, in a post Botticelli style between Renaissance and Flemish Baroque, surrounded by not less than thirty animals - both exotic and domestic - including a large number of birds amongst which several parrots turning this copper painting in a paragon of colours.

In addition to the academic beauty of his character so successfully designed, the painter was able to compose a sfumato green-blue landscape on this biblical theme blending the shimmering of the water and the foliage so abundantly present in the works of Jan Brueghel father and son.

A Pauline idea of heaven before Eve?

Before the advent of Eve, Adam, ingenuous but already hiding his genitals by a branch, a hand on the head of an ox is in perfect harmony with the divine bestiary of its creator.

This composition in a flawless allegorical and pictorial scheduling marks the time of harmony. A moment of painterly virtuosity.


Le Paradis terrestre II: Dieu bénit Adam et Eve (prolepse de leur mariage par Dieu dans la Genèse) Ou Pomus-malum : La bénédiction d’Adam et Eve ou prolepse matrimoniale
After an ellipse of the birth of Eve, Adam and Eve are blessed by God who descends in the garden of Eden; the couple is standing, close and without guilt before their creator whose blessing has a marriage value.

With the animals as witnesses of this marriage, symbolising loyalty (dogs), Christ (deer) and strength and royalty (pair of lions on the left of the work).

However, the threat of the fall is already present, Adam and Eve under an apple tree (tree of knowledge of good and evil).

It's also essentially by phonetic and semantic derivation but also geographical that the apple has been equated with the forbidden fruit while sources, according to their location, refer instead to pears, figs or yet pomegranate.

But for most Europeans, the apple is a native, popular, tasty and attractive fruit that comes from the latin "malum"; and that's why it is claimed to be the fruit of evil...

The name 'apple' in derived French is 'pomus' which simply means any kind of fruit. The blending of these two etymons gave rise to the "pomus-malum" apple, fruit of evil and therefore forbidden fruit.

Pomus-malum, or the narration of a marriage blessing that cannot be done without some fruit seeds?


Except for the germs, nothing yet finally formalises in this work the fall of the Edenic couple. The bestiary at the blessing is at rest, peaceful. Many clues are to be found in the work. The apples in the tree above Adam, the watchful eyes of God, or this strain in the left third of the work that could represent, by its broken tree, the 'decay' of an oath to God.

The pictorial as well as the allegorical drama is perfectly in place.

Act 3 of the pictorial gesture: God to Eve, last representation of Eden

Another highlight of the Genesis so finely transcribed, the caveat of Eve by God while Adam is asleep. God forbid Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Adam is asleep, it will be only the moral conscience and free will of Eve who will be solicited, resulting in an abundant literature on the only guilt of Eve.

This is also a pictorial demonstration. In this work, the finesse of plant motifs (virtuosity in the representation of the foliage to the right of Eve, a palm to be discerned far away) and the delicate fading of chromaticism, complete the beauty of the work.

A fresh work still preserved from the tumult of the offence to the command of God.

The animal environment itself still mixes fantasy (an ostrich with a squirrel) with allegories of loyalty (dog) and Christianity (deer) sitting at the centre of the work.

This representation of Adam dozed off before the changeover in the forfeiture, represents the tragic antithesis that manages to overwhelm this third copper painting.

A miracle of harmony before the fall where the passivity in surrendering to sleep of one strengthens the free judgement of the other.

The couple of equals will break with the expulsion from the garden of Eden.

The proleptic representation of the fault of Eve, is the legitimation of centuries of infantilisation and guilt of women across all forms of speech of the monotheisms.

A capital period in biblical exegesis. A hard time for women.

And here the affirmation of a sublime and magical pictorial balance.

Figuration of the fall: The unicorn, the wolf, the divine cloud and the allegory of the mountain

Conclusion of this polyptych consisting of four paintings on copper of the same size of the earthly paradise: God speaks from heaven to the ontological couple and expels them.

The hermeneutics of this work is not immediate and its iconography can be confused with the second composition (God blessing Adam and Eve) although to reverse semes. This interpolation also comes from the iconographic proximity with the work 'Dieu bénit Adam, Eve et les animaux' by Maerten Vos engraved by Johann Sadeler around 1587 where the couple is represented sitting under a tree but in a humble attitude of prayer.
The Act of God is yet comminatory; unlike the representation of the blessing God, God is not descending to the garden of Eden and is not represented with the gesture of benediction where the forefinger and middle finger are stretched.

The animal iconography provides valuable information.
The wolf, symbol of lust, proclaiming sin of flesh between Adam and Eve, although married in Genesis in vocation to reproduce themselves, is screaming in the direction of God.
The unicorn, ambivalent symbol of female purity but also, as a result of the truncated translation of a Hebrew term in the Psalms and the Book of Job, appears to assert itself here as a violent and evil animal, allegory of the devil. Saint Bernard requiring 'to fight against the pride of the unicorn '.

The esoteric horned equine skillfully and dynamically represented to the left of Adam and Eve would then symbolise the sin of pride of the couple who wanted to match God in the knowledge of good and evil.

The price will be expulsion from the garden of Eden and leaving the tree of life. They became mortal and had to undergo suffering and work according to the related etymology (tripalium in latin).

Despite his speech, dark and pessimistic, since completing the last part of the fall of man, the painter sends a message of hope by opening the prospect of its landscape in a subtle detail.
If the couple is depicted sitting under a tree (of knowledge?), undergoing the divine wrath of which they don’t understand yet the finality, the landscape perspective that draws the post Eden horizon remains open although hazardous, a road bristly with ordeals, symbolised by the blue mountain that can be discerned above the head of the Wolf.

Through this allegory of the mountain, humanity, still at its origin, will be built with effort and will thus gain nobility, beauty, freedom.

This polyptych of any scarcity came to us without having been dismembered, thus representing a seamless narrative of the biblical paradise, which increases the value. An exceptional work in a perfect state of conservation.

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