This marvelous depiction of the Garden of Eden is not painted by one, but two well-known artists: Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder. While Breughel’s father, the even more famous Pieter Breughel the Elder, excelled in peasant scenes, Jan was especially gifted as a painter of exuberant nature scenes and floral still lifes. The fineness and accuracy with which he rendered flowers and plants earned him the nickname ‘Velvet Brueghel’. Jan regularly worked together with other artists, letting them add human figures to his landscapes, mostly to create biblical or allegorical scenes.
His most fruitful collaboration was with Peter Paul Rubens, who was as skilful in painting human figures as Jan Breughel was in depicting nature. Though they were both respected and popular artists in their own right, their joint works were in even greater demand than their solo work.
This Paradise scene, on show in the Mauritshuis in The Hague, is a good example of the successful merging of their talents. Research has shown that it was Breughel who began sketching the outlines of the composition on the panel, but that it was Rubens who put the first scenes into paint: Adam and Eve, but also a part of the tree and the horse beside them. When this was done, Brueghel added the sky, the landscape and filled the rest of the painting with animals and plants.
The painting captures the moment right before Adam eats from the fatal apple that Eve is handing him, which would result in their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Rubens en Breughel show us an ideal world where everything is in perfect harmony. Nothing in this peaceful setting seems to indicate the approaching doom.