Tree of Life: An Analysis

In the Tree of Life, Max Ernst painted an otherworldly scene populated by bizarre crossbreeds of birds and snakes.As a member of the surrealist movement, Ernst depicted the illogical, private world of dreams and hidden subconscious thoughts.Here he juxtaposes air and sea animals as a representation of the interconnectivity of life, and biology and religion as keys to understanding the meaning of life.
The two central images on the canvas rely heavily on bird imagery.Since early childhood, Ernst was fascinated with birds .He once had a dream where a bird told him his sister would die the next day.However, when he woke up it was the pet bird that had died while the sister lived.This may have influenced Ernst's thoughts of birds as messengers in deciphering the future.
Across time, birds have been seen as messengers .In biblical times there was the figurative dove that brought Noah the olive branch with the message that the flood was over.Medieval tales of dragons and knights often have birds accompanying hero on their quest as mentors, giving them advice.The cliched line of"a little bird told me" proposes a secret source of information, and "they understand the language of birds," suggests the open ears of someone who is always listening; the omnipresent individual.These are all situations of birds helping to guide humans to future opportunity and hope.
To understand the birds in the Tree of Life it is helpful to notice what the bird is positioned next to and what it is doing.The bird head on the snake may symbolize the connection between pleasure and terror, as Ernst was deathly afraid of snakes. On the slaughtered bird, the snake like characteristic of the entrails may reference the medusa , a type of jellyfish named after the'horrific mythological character with snakes for hair'.However, these forms were purposely left ambiguous so as to leave open many different r…


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