Trivium Art History
Evelyn De Morgan
The Garden of Opportunity, 1892 — Evelyn De Morgan,

The Garden of Opportunity

Evelyn De Morgan, 1892

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117 cm194 cm

In the Garden of Opportunity, we see on the right the symbols of learning and wisdom. The bench is decorated with an owl, the wise bird, and with the cornucopia of the wealth of the earth. A book lies discarded on the bench. Behind is a church, the medieval seat of learning. The mill and water wheel behind the bench represent all the riches of the earth, harvested for the benefit of humanity. In front of the bench is Wisdom herself, in an attitude of despair, at her feet the discarded riches that she can bring to those who follow her.

The central figures are two medieval students, dressed in colourful robes, who have turned their backs on wisdom and learning, and are moving towards Folly, represented by the female figure on the left. Against a desolate background, she tempts them towards a castle, symbol of transient wealth. She holds out to them a silver ball. On one side of this ball (the side they cannot see) is a skull. In her other hand is a branch of henbane – a narcotic and poisonous plant. On the stairway to the Palace of Folly, a little devil peeps out from the banister to see which they will choose. The two students are in the Garden of Opportunity – will they be tempted by the easy riches offered by Folly, and choose the path of worldliness, which leads only to death and the devil, or will they turn back to the path of goodness, wisdom and learning, and use their talents for the good of all?

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