The permanent and official blog of the University of Leicester's School of Museum Studies PhD student conferences and special events.

22 December 2011

Historical Utopias: The Garden of Eden

Seeing as it's the Judeo-Christian holiday season, we thought we would take you back to the original Utopia: the mythological Garden of Eden. Described in the Bible's book of Genesis as having a real location between 4 rivers and 3 regions/kingdoms, we thought we would apply the word 'historical' loosely in this instance. Most of you will probably know the story of how the Creator God charged the first people, Adam and Eve, with taking care of the garden and its flora and fauna, as well as how they succumbed to temptation and were driven out for eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Much has been made of this story over the centuries theologically, and the Wikipedia entry for the Garden of Eden has some fascinating tidbits about where the concept came from as well as speculation on its actual geographical location. Whether or not it represents an earthly or spiritual place, or even a paradise as we understand one today, is impossible to prove. Here, we would like to point you to a really interesting article which traces the related etymology of Garden and Paradise through Middle Eastern art, particularly carpets. Oriental rugs have mixed functions, and a complex iconographical system based on their area of origin; they are, however, usually intimately related to the religious beliefs (mostly Muslim) of the people who produce them. It is interesting to note that the type of carpet most people most readily associate with the genre - the 'Persian' - with its intricate floral motifs, is actually a representation of the garden of paradise. The article linked to above describes the Persian approach to garden design, and demonstrates how this is translated in art and in European landscape architecture also. Once you know that a Persian rug is the carpet of paradise, it is difficult not to see the references to the Biblical/Kuranic story, including its quadrilateral topography. So the next time you step on an Oriental rug, or walk in an Italianate garden, you will be walking on a bit of the heavenly Garden of Eden, and participating in a little bit of paradise. Happy holidays from the Museum Utopias team!

[Image: Edward Burne-Jones, 'Adam and Even in Eden', 1892, V&A]