Eva Prima Pandora – Jean Cousin the Elder

evaprima

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

This painting, titled Eva Prima Pandora, was made by Jean Cousin the Elder around 1550. Now it is part of the French paintings collection of the Louvre Museum.

Jean Cousin depicted a nude female lying down in a landscape. While leaning on a skull, the woman holds a apple tree branch in her right hand, around which a snake is coiled. Her left hand is on a vase, and we can see a second one at the entrance of the cave. This woman is nude in an ancient fashion that usually indicates a mythological subject and is rare. On top of the figure, there is a sign where you can read “Eva Prima Pandora”. This inscription has a variant “Lutetia nova Pandora”. This one was inscribed on a triumphal arch at the entrance of Paris in 1549 (during Henri II’s reign). We know this thanks to the archives in which we have a book on Henri II’s entrance in Paris.

With Eva (or Eve, which refers to original sin), you can associate the apple tree branch, the snake and the skull. With Pandora, you can associate the two vases (according to the myth she either opened a box or a vase). Those two characters are linked to the origin of the evil and the troubles of humanity. However in this painting, we have positive iconography. This is the depiction of the large mythological nude which reminds us of the Sleeping Venus by Giorgione. Cousin’s nude mixes a profile and a bust which reflects a mannerist aesthetic canon (a slim breast placed high on the bust, a silhouette which undulates). All of this is emphasized by draperies and the smoother parts of her body. The typical Cousin’s motifs can be found in the falling draperies. This painting shows the influence of Rosso Fiorentino and Cellini on the nude, but the shape of the cave and the landscape remind us of Leonardo Da Vinci. Cousin uses some existing techniques, but there is a new style in, for example, the face having a long nose.

One of the difficulties is that French painting at this time demonstrates diverse influences. This painting illustrates with boldness the overlapping of both Christian and pagan figures. Eve, who brought death to humanity (the skull) through original sin, is the first Pandora to open the vase containing all the troubles of humanity. Keep in mind that nobody can agree on this painting’s significance.

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