If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:3:55

Video transcript

we're in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston we're looking at really early Thomas Cole this is the expulsion from Eden normally when we think about that subject we might think about images from the Italian Renaissance like Masaccio is expulsion from the Garden of Eden or the expulsion by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel those are paintings of Adam and Eve of the two figures but colas transform this into a landscape painting we can barely find Adam and Eve it takes us a moment in part because they're so small but he has given us this over-the-top operatic treatment that starkly contrasts the garden that is Eden God's paradise with the terror of the wilderness beyond I read this painting from right to left instead of from left to right I begin in the brighter Eden and Cole has given us this fantastic Vista we can see these crystalline mountains that reach up to heaven and then sloped down to these lovely glades like tropical paradise and as we move towards the foreground we can just make out two swans in a pool we even see waterfalls down those purplish mountains and this whole area of Eden is flooded with light and everything seems verdant and lush but that's contrasted with the left side of the painting where we see Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden of Eden and we feel a blast of light that expels them from the Garden of Eden that obviously represents a divine force nature is much bleaker trees have been struck by lightning and ravaged by time the colors are Browns and there's sharp contrasts of light and dark you can actually see a storm in the sky that frames volcano Adam holds his hand up to his far head Eve clutches at his hand they know they're in deep trouble and as if to make that point even more clearly in the lower-left we see a wild animal that's felled a deer and is protecting it against an approaching vulture this new culture that this new American nation didn't half what Europe had did not have ancient ruins did not have ancient cultures but at the beginning of the nineteenth century philosophers and writers and painters began to recognize that it's wilderness was in a sense it's great heritage that's right but American painters knew that landscape was a low kind of art in the hierarchy established by the academies in Europe they knew that landscape was looked down on and one way that you could ennoble a landscape and raise it up to a higher level to the level of history painting was to make it the settings for heroic human endeavor for biblical stories and that's exactly what Cole has done American artists are always wanting to be taken seriously but because of the artistic situation in America they're often forced to paint subjects that their clients want which are not the noblest subjects simple landscapes and portraits so this painting in some ways might have been a challenge to its American public who were used to more prosaic images and here Cole is attempting something more ambitious Cole wants to be a serious painter and he can't do that by simply painting the catskills us he's going to later do he returns again and again to these more serious subjects the voyage of life the course of empire but all stories that can be enacted in the landscape you