The Creation of the World and the Expulsion from Paradise by Giovanni di Paolo

Giovanni di Paolo

The Creation of the World and the Expulsion from Paradise, 1445, Tempera and gold on wood, 46.4 x 52.1 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Robert Lehman Collection, 1975, 1975.1.31, www.metmuseum.org

Close Close
Zoom in Zoom in
Zoom out Zoom out
Reset image Reset image

Starting Time

Commentary by
Read by Ben Quash

Between God and the creature is the same difference as between a consciousness in which all the notes of a melody are simultaneously present, and a consciousness that perceives them only in succession. (Hausheer 1937: 504)

Giovanni di Paolo painted this panel as part of the predella (the lowermost horizontal component) of his now fragmented Guelfi Altarpiece for the Basilica Cateriniana di San Domenico in Siena, the central panel of which is now in the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence.

The panel breaks away from pictorial conventions of narrative and space. The composition itself comprises two scenes, one dealing with the creation of the earth and the other with the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. God the creator descends from the upper left corner of the panel. In the heart of the cosmic disc is a world map showing the concentrated rocky earth of the interconnected four continents devoid of any cities or other human creations. It is surrounded by seven spheres. The four internal ones mark the Aristotelian elements from which everything in the world was believed to have been created (earth, wind, fire, and water). The other spheres represent the known planets, while the outermost sphere depicts the signs of the zodiac.

The bringing of the world into being is thus depicted on the left side of the panel as if it were the work of an instant. It is as though time—as creatures know it—is compressed rather than spread out in the moment of creation. Time (because part of creation) is present to God all-at-once: whole and entire.

By contrast, the right side of the panel shows ‘transitory’ time being set in motion as the angel expels Adam and Eve. Still within the Garden of Eden, in which the flora are rendered in exacting detail, the first man and woman are forced to step towards the edges of the composition, and so out of paradise. Their actual paces mark the beginning of fallen time.

Thus the instantaneity of creation, marked by God placing his finger on the sphere to forge the world in the moment before the Anthropocene, is matched with the expulsion from the garden, marked by humans’ treading of the earth. These first steps out of Eden begin to beat the rhythm to which all temporal cycles of life and death, emergence and decay, will march.

 

References

Hausheer, Herman. 1937. ‘St Augustine's Conception of Time’, in The Philosophical Review, 46.5: 503–12


Read next commentary