The flowering meadows of Paradise. Images of the Land of the Redeemed in paintings of the Last Judgment by Beato Angelico and his imitators
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In four paintings by Beato Angelico which depict the Last Judgment, angels receive the redeemed into paradise which looks like a green, flowering meadow. In the most complex of these compositions, created in the 1430's (Florence, Museo di San Marco), in the centre of the meadow there is a wall which surrounds the core of the Paradise; an open gate leads inside. In the painting from the years 1447-48 (Berlin, Staatliche Museen), on the other side of the meadow there are green hills, over which the blessed step onto clouds which transport them to the luminous Elysium. The heavenly paradise, where the redeemed can dance with the angels or stroll among shrubs in bloom and trees laden with fruit, resembles the garden of Eden, which God created for the first man and woman. Although mediaeval theologians were careful to observe the difference between the paradisus terrestris and paradisus coelestis, representations can be found in mediaeval iconography in which timeless, ceremonial depictions of Christ, the Virgin Mary and the saints are imbued with motifs derived from the images of the terrestrial paradise. However, such conception is very rare in the case of scenes of the Last Judgment. The closest ideological analogy to Beato Angelico's paintings is the fresco in the church of Santa Maria del Piano in Loreto Aprutino, dating from the 1st quarter of the 15th c. Beato Angelico did not model his work on the Loreto Aprutino fresco, however; most probably authors of these works drew their inspiration from some common literary source. Descriptions of paradise as a meadow or a garden full of fragrant flowers had appeared already in the Christian apocalypses; later this idea was found in mediaeval descriptions of afterlife until the end of the 15th c. Iconographic patterns could also be provided by the output of Venetian artists from the turn of the 14th c., who introduced the motif of a meadow to depictions of Mary with Child among saints or of Mary's coronation. It is also not possible to rule out the possibility that the image was spread through works of Gentile da Fabriano. Beato Angelico's pictorial formula was later referred to by his pupils and imitators (Zanobi Strozzi, Domenico di Michelino, Benozzo Gozzoli), who introduced various modifications of this topic.
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