The Garden of Eden

Date: last quarter 16th century

Culture: British

Medium: Velvet worked with silk and metal thread; long-and-short, split, stem, satin, chain, knots, and couching stitches; applied canvas worked with silk thread in tent stitch

Dimensions: H. 22 1/2 x W. 80 inches (57.2 x 203.2 cm)

Classification: Textiles-Embroidered

Credit Line: Gift of Irwin Untermyer, 1964

Accession Number: 64.101.1284


This panel was one of a set of three valances probably used to decorate the tester of a bed. Small elements—fruits, flowers, and leaves—were worked in tent stitch on canvas and then applied to the dark velvet foundation on which was worked the river in the Garden of Eden, the figures of Adam and Eve, and God the Father, in polychrome silk and metal threads. The garden is monumental, almost overwhelming the figures. The three trees that anchor the composition would have brought to mind the biblical description of trees in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The scene of Adam and Eve being expelled from Eden on the far right may also derive from a reading of contemporary vernacular English Bibles, rather than any pictorial convention. Adam and Eve wear garments that suggest articles of late Elizabethan dress and the Geneva Bible of 1560 referred to their first clothes as "breeches." In this and other embroidered renderings of the story of the expulsion from Eden, Adam and Eve are treated more gently by God and the expelling angel than they are in contemporary print sources.