(on viewing Wenzel Peter’s Painting Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden)
greater love has no man than that he lay down his life for a friend
John 15 v13
Images of more than two hundred animals
perfected in paint in unreal detail
carefully positioned in a still of verdant harmony
show an intricate love of the animal world
and for the very marvel of creation
in all its great variety and abundance.
For one brief moment
we are invited into this paradise
but as we enter this unreal world
there is a certain foreboding
an animal premonition prevails –
a flock of birds stir into the air
scurry above the tree of knowledge
give the danger warning
the wise owl sits at the top of another tree
knowing of the unknown perhaps
that knowledge is truly a dangerous thing
the cockerel at the foot of Eve
exhibits a full throttle crow –
an ominous omen
and the monkey appears to taunt
hanging down in a mischievous mood
proffering the reason for the disquiet
at Adam’s right hand
dogs sit true to the letters of their name
below the left foot of Eve
lambs bleat their concern,
unknowing the magnitude of the occasion for –
Eve has left the paradise party
never able to return
locked into a new and deadly life
a very different world from Adam
the two no longer gathered in one name
alone, cold, knowing that she must die
separated from eternal life
her skin has turned a shade pale.
And so Eve makes her plea
a plea for company
a plea not to die alone
and this defining moment is stilled
on canvass for all to see.
Now Eve is Adam’s own flesh and blood
Eve is his one and only friend
the only friend he has ever had
the only friend in the immensity of the world
and indeed a very special friend
a friend gifted by God
a friend created from him
so that he would not be alone.
Eve is in a state of desperate need.
Has Adam not enjoyed being with her
the time they have had together
has been pure paradise but
can he now stay in paradise by himself
surely he cannot ignore her plea.
Adam has no choice
there is no greater love
and any God would equally agree.
Context … the following image is from Wenzel Peter’s famous painting: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden held in the Vatican –
The large canvas represents the climax of Wenzel Peter’s career. He was an animalist painter, that is to say specialized in a very unique type of painting, and this led him to reproducing with extraordinary naturalism animals of the most varied species, as it were “photographed” in both standing and fighting positions. The Garden of Eden is the proof of the highest virtuosity, since the artist gathers around the figures of Adam and Eve those of over two hundred animals from all over the world, reproduced not only with pictorial ability, but also with a detailed knowledge and scientific precision. In 1831 Gregory XVI (pontiff from 1831 to 1846) purchased twenty works of the Austrian painter Wenzel Peter to furnish the Room of the Consistory in the Papal State Apartment.
I would add the importance of the positioning of the animals and the clear implied religious thought behind the design of the work.