Painting Paradise

My PhD research at the ‘Prince’s Foundation: School of Traditional Arts’ in London


The theme of Paradise is one that has captivated artists for centuries, evoking images of lush gardens and celestial realms. From intricate sacred geometries to vivid floral depictions, artists have explored the many facets of this utopian ideal throughout history. [i],[ii]

However, the reality is that many artistic works on this theme are far from heavenly or wholesome. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, synthetic pigments flooded the market, and the use of unsustainable materials like acrylic microplastics became more widespread in the 20th century. The result has been a wave of artworks that not only fail to live up to the thematic ideal, but also pose a serious threat to the environment and human health.[iii]

As part of my PhD research, I aim to bridge this gap between the concept of Paradise and its actual execution in art. By delving into Medieval Western illuminated manuscripts as well as Persian and Arabic ones from the same era, I hope to gain insights from pre-modern masters on sustainable artistic practices. My ultimate goal is to transform the contemporary art sector, not just for works on the theme of Paradise, but for all artistic themes, by incorporating paradisiacal methods that are environmentally conscious and circular in nature. With this vision, I hope to play a role in addressing the pressing sustainability challenges of our time. [iv]


[i] See for example historical books of images (see for example, The Bedford Book of Hours, MS 18850, The British Library, ca. 1410-1430 and Aga-Oglu, M. & Hall, H. B. ‘The Landscape Miniatures of an Anthology Manuscript of the Year 1398 A.D.’ Ars Islam. 3, 1936, 76–98). Artists from more recent history are likewise drawn to this timeless theme, for example: Pierre Bonnard in his explorations of paradise from 1916 to 1920, ‘Earthly Paradise’; Marc Chagall in his 1961 surrealistic masterpiece ‘Adam and Eve expelled from Paradise’; Monica Maja Richardson’s 2021 ‘Green Paradise’ <www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-GREEN-PARADISE/399252/8811701/view>

[ii] Heinberg, R. Memories and Visions of Paradise: exploring the universal myth of a lost golden age. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1989, pages XXV, 3-4, 74-75.

[iii] On the potential harms to the environment caused by artists’ materials see, for example: Jansen, M. & Letschert, H. P. ‘Inorganic yellow-red pigments without toxic metals’, Nature vol. 404, 980–982 (2000), p. 1; T. M. Garcia, et al. ‘Microplastics in subsurface waters of the western equatorial Atlantic (Brazil)’, Marine Pollution Bulletin, vol. 150, (2020), p. 1, 4; For contribution to loss of biodiversity and health hazards see, for example: L. Leyssens, Vinck, B., Van Der Straeten, C., Wuyts, F. & Maes, L. ‘Cobalt toxicity in humans: A review of the potential sources and systemic health effects’, Toxicology, vol. 387, 43–56 (2017), p. 2,4,9; H. S. Kim, Kim, Y. J. & Seo, Y. R. ‘An Overview of Carcinogenic Heavy Metal: Molecular Toxicity Mechanism and Prevention’, Journal of Cancer Prevention vol. 20, 232–240 (2015) p.232, 238.

[iv] See for example Ghisellini, Cialani and Ulgiati’s notion of the circularity of the economy in their proposal for urgent transition required to meet the challenges of the environmental crisis (see Ghisellini, P., Cialani, C. & Ulgiati, S. ‘A Review on Circular Economy: The expected transition to a balanced interplay of environmental and economic systems’. Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 114, 11–32 (2016)) and the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development | Department of Economic and Social Affairs. <sdgs.un.org/2030agenda> accessed 17 May 2022).

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