The Tree of Life

Page from Darwin’s notebooks around July 1837 showing his first sketch of an evolutionary tree

 
 

Interpretation of handwriting: “I think case must be that one generation should have as many living as now. To do this and to have as many species in same genus (as is) requires extinction . Thus between A + B the immense gap of relation. C + B the finest gradation. B+D rather greater distinction. Thus genera would be formed. Bearing relation” (next page begins) “to ancient types with several extinct forms”

 
 

The tree of life is a metaphor describing the relationship of all life on Earth in an evolutionary context. Charles Darwin talks about envisioning evolution as a “tangled bank” in On the Origin of Species; however, the book’s sole illustration is of a branched diagram that is very tree-like.

 
 

“From the first growth of the tree, many a limb and branch has decayed and dropped off; and these fallen branches of various sizes may represent those whole orders, families, and genera which have now no living representatives, and which are known to us only in a fossil state. As we here and there see a thin, straggling branch springing from a fork low down in a tree, and which by some chance has been favoured and is still alive on its summit, so we occasionally see an animal like the Ornithorhynchus (Platypus) or Lepidosiren (South American lungfish), which in some small degree connects by its affinities two large branches of life, and which has apparently been saved from fatal competition by having inhabited a protected station. As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever-branching and beautiful ramifications.”

Charles Darwin

On the Origin of Species

 
 

17th-century depiction of the Tree of Life in Palace of Shaki Khans, Azerbaijan

 
 

The concept of a tree of life has been used in science, religion, philosophy, and mythology. A tree of life is a common motif in various world theologies, mythologies, and philosophies. It alludes to the interconnection of all life on our planet and serves as a metaphor for common descent in the evolutionary sense. The term tree of life may also be used as a synonym for sacred tree.

 
 

Depiction of the Norse Yggdrasil as described in the Icelandic Prose Edda by Oluf Olufsen Bagge, 1847

 
 

In George Herbert‘s poem The Sacrifice (part of The Temple, 1633), the Tree of Life is the rood on which Jesus Christ was crucified

 
 

Scenes from the Life of Christ19. Crucifixion, Giotto di Bondone, 1304-06

 
 

 In C. S. LewisChronicles of Narnia, the Tree of Life plays a role, especially in the sixth published book (the first in the in-world chronology) The Magician’s Nephew

 
 

Darren Aronofsky’s 2006 film The Fountain (as well as the 2005 graphic novel based on the screenplay) centers on immortality given by the Tree of Life.

 
 


The Tree of Life is a Terrence Malick film released in May 2011, starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain

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Swan’s Way

Blazon

For the Countess of Peralta

 
 

The snow-white Olympic swan,
with beak of rose-red agate,
preens his Eucharistic wing,
which he opens to the sun like a fan.

 

His shining neck is curved
like the arm of a lyre,
like the handle of a Greek amphora,
like the prow of a ship.

 

He is the swan of divine origin
whose kiss mounted through fields
of silk to the rosy peaks
of Leda’s sweet hills.

 

White king of of Castalia’s fount,
his triumph illumines the Danube;
Da Vinci was his baron in Italy;
Lohengrin is his blond prince.

 

His whiteness is akin to linen,
to the buds of the white roses,
to the diamantine white
of the fleece of an Easter lamb.

 

He is the poet of perfect verses,
and his lyric cloak is of ermine;
he is the magic, the regal bird
who, dying, rhymes the soul in his song.

 

This winged aristocrat displays
white lilies on a blue field;
and Pompadour, gracious and lovely,
has stroked his feathers.

 

He rows and rows on the lake
Where a golden gondola waits
For the sweetheart of Louis of Bavaria.

 

Countess, give the swans your love,
for they are gods of an alluring land
and are made of perfume and ermine,
of white light, of silk, and of dreams.

Ruben Darío

 
 

Photo: Bruce Weber

 
 

Carmen Dell’Orefice by Norman Parkinson, 1980

 
 

Swaroski logo

 
 

Bathyllus in the swan dance, Aubrey Beardsley

 
 

Henri Matisse making a study of a swan in the Bois de Boulogne, c. 1930

 
 

Advertisement illustrated by René Gruau

 
 

Illustration to Garcia Márquez’s short story Bon Voyage Mr. President, by Josie Portillo

 
 

Still from The Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010)

 
 

Anna Pavlova

 
 

Still from The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (Bill Condon, 2011)

 
 

Helena Bonham Carter

 
 

Laetita Casta. Photo: Mario Testino

 
 

Uma Thurman and Mikahil Baryshnikov as The Swan Prince. Photo: Arthur Elgort

 
 

Truman Capote styled his beautiful and wealthy female friends “swans”

 
 

Accompained by Lee Radziwill and Jane Haward

 
 

With socialité Babe Paley in Paris

 
 

Escorting CZ Guest

 
 

Capote and Gloria Vanderbilt Lumet arrive at New York’s 54th Street Theatre for the opening performance of Caligula., 16 Feb 1960

 
 

Gloria Vanderbilt ad campaigns

 
 

Ludwig II (Luchino Visconti, 1972). He was sometimes called the Swan King

 
 

Mirror, Mirror (Tarsem Singh, 2012)

 
 

Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in The Great Gatsby (Jack Clayton, 1974)

 
 

Leonardo di Caprio. Photo: Annie Leibovitz

 
 

Madonna. Photo: David LaChapelle

 
 

David Bowie

 
 

Ad campaign featured in Vogue, January 1997

 
 

Tory Burch swan-print wedge sandalias

 
 

Swan Evening dress by Charles James, 1951

 
 

Kate Moss wearing a Givenchy gown by Ricardo Tisci, Spring-Summer collection 2011

 
 

Giles Deacon Spring-Summer 2012 collection

 
 

Erin O’Connor wearing a gown by Alexander McQueen. Photo: Tim Walker

 
 

Eglingham Children and Swan on Beach, Tim Walker, 2002