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Eva Prima Pandora

© 2000 RMN / René-Gabriel Ojéda / Thierry Le Mage

Paintings
French painting

Author(s):
Barbillon Cécile

Eve, guilty of original sin as related in the Book of Genesis, is here equated with Pandora who, in Greek mythology, spread all the evils that have afflicted mankind by curiously opening the box entrusted to her by the gods. When King Henri II entered Paris in 1549, Jean Cousin decorated a triumphal arch with an allegory of the city as 'The New Pandora dressed as a nymph'.

Eve and Pandora

This sensually imaginative representation of Eve, the first woman, offers an idealized female figure reclining against a dual backdrop: the untamed landscape on the right suggesting the meanders of the earthly paradise, and that on the left organized and dominated by man. Jean Cousin's inspiration here is clearly Italian: rigorous use of perspective, skilled organization of the pictorial space, bodily contours defined by subtle lighting from the left, the physical sensuality of the young woman and the exquisite treatment of the jewelry and accessories. The architecture and the skull, reminiscent of Mantegna in their symbolic sophistication, are evocations of the ephemerality of life and earthly beauty.

Eve or Pandora?

Who exactly is this mysterious, elongated female nude leaning so nonchalantly on a skull as her left hand seems to be closing an elaborately decorated vase? Her gaze and expression elude the viewer, so much does the fixity of the neo-Greek profile contrast with the fluid lines of the body.
The title, included in the picture over the figure's head and clearly indicating that its meaning extends beyond the ostensible subject, deepens the mystery: is this, in fact, Eve or Pandora - a character drawn from the Bible or from pagan mythology?

The source of all humanity's ills

Indulging in a favorite intellectual exercise of the Renaissance humanists, Cousin leads his spectators towards a comparison: are there not striking similarities between the first sinner of the Judaeo-Christian tradition and the first woman modeled by Hephaistos?
Both women disobeyed, and for the same culpable motive: curiosity. Both were the source of all humanity's ills: as the skull, symbol of all the Vanities indicates, the vase on which Pandora vainly places her hand has already released the plagues and disasters it should have held prisoner forever.
Little is known of the history of this work or of the circumstances behind its creation. The property of a Sens family originally from the same village as Jean Cousin, the painting was acquired by the Friends of the Louvre association and given to the museum in 1922.

Technical description

  • Jean Cousin the ElderSens, c. 1490 - Paris, c. 1560

    Eva Prima Pandora

    c. 1550

  • Oil on wood

    H. 0.97 m; W. 1.50 m

  • Gift of the Friends of the Louvre association, 1922

    R.F. 2373

  • Paintings

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