By 1890 Evelyn De Morgan was living for six months of the year in Florence and the Renaissance narrative pictures - usually predellas or panels for cassones - clearly influenced her allegorical pictures of this time. This picture was painted in Florence and probably stayed in the De Morgan's home there until they visited for the last time in 1914. This picture was never exhibited in the artist's own lifetime.
The Garden of Opportunity (1892) by Evelyn De MorganDe Morgan Collection
Two students are in the Garden of Opportunity. Will they be tempted by the easy riches offered by Folly, and choose the path which leads only to death and the devil? Or will they turn back to the path of goodness, wisdom and learning, to use their talents for the good of all?
Symbols of learning and opportunity are on the right of the painting. Wisdom is portrayed as a woman in despair, at her feet the discarded riches that she can bring to those who follow her.
On the stone seat behind Wisdom, an owl is carved into the arm rest. This is the symbol of wisdom.
Next to the owl is a book, a symbol of learning, discarded.
In the background, behind Wisdom, is a church. This was 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.
The tree is a symbol of knowledge. The two fruit have been left hanging on the branches.
The two students have turned their back on Wisdom and learning.
Their clothes are richly decorated and edged in fur.
The dove, a symbol of peace and purpose is grounded.
The dove faces a snarling black lion. Opposites in both colour and attitude.
The students are moving towards Folly, who entices them with a silver ball in one hand...
...but on closer inspection, the silver ball has a skull on the side that is hidden from the students.
In her other hand is a branch of henbane – a narcotic and poisonous plant.
The castle behind Folly, is a symbol of transient wealth.
On the stairway to the Palace of Folly, a little devil peeps out from the banister to see which they will choose.
Behind Folly, the landscape is dry and barren. Nothing is growing there.
Folly looks very similar to Wisdom, demonstrating that we can easily mistake Folly for Wisdom, if we are not paying attention.
De Morgan Foundation