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Gallery Text

A key figure in both Dada and surrealism, Ernst painted this work after moving from Cologne to Paris, during a pivotal period when he was shifting away from the collage technique of his Dada compositions toward painting and the dreamlike language of surrealism. Divided into two registers, ostensibly the “heavenly” and “earthly” spheres of the title, the work offers an enigmatic and idiosyncratic interpretation of its theme of sacred and profane love, long a source of inspiration for Western artists. Ernst’s grim evocation of heavenly love, with its Pietà-like arrangement of a mourning woman and a pale corpse, recalls the recent trauma and carnage of World War I. The mound of earth and the strange actions of the figures in the lower, “earthly” register evoke the creation story, in which man is formed from a lump of clay, while the enormous snake menacingly alludes to his ultimate fall.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Max Ernst, German (Brühl, Germany 1891 - 1976 Paris, France)
Heavenly and Earthly Love
Other Titles
Original Language Title: Himmlische und irdische Liebe
Work Type
c. 1923
Creation Place: Europe, France, Paris
Persistent Link


Level 1, Room 1520, Modern and Contemporary Art, Art in Germany Between the Wars
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Physical Descriptions

Oil on millboard
48 x 63 cm (18 7/8 x 24 13/16 in.)
framed: 71 x 85.5 x 4 cm (27 15/16 x 33 11/16 x 1 9/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • (not assigned): Inscriptions/stickers on verso of painting, attached to back of millboard:

    Sticker, red rimmed: Art Institute of Chicago/Max Ernst/Heavenly and Earthy Love/Mrs. Julian Levy Loan/1224.1982

    Sticker, gray strips top and bottom: AH/Max Ernst/"Heavenly and Earthly Love"/oil on board/193/4 x 25 1/2"

    Sticker: Moderna Museet/Max Ernst dream and Revolution/20 Sept 2008 -11 Jan 2009/ Met/2008/063

    Sticker: Max Ernst: Dada and the Dawn of Surrealism/The Museum of Modern Art, NY 3/12/93-5/2/93/The Menil Collection, Houston 5/27/93 - 8/29/93/The Art Institute of Chicago 9/15/93 - 11/30/93/Checklist #169/ Himmlische und irdische Liebe/ca 1923/24/oil on canvas/ 19 x 25/Lender Dr Arnd Oetker

    Sticker: APF Inc/Frame makers & Conservators/315 East 91st St./Showrooms/231 East 60th Street/&/1001 Madison Ave./New York City

    Masking tape: 3191 Levy

    Sticker, white: 809

    Inscription in red crayon: 46

    Inscription in red ink: ?20


Recorded Ownership History
Max Ernst, Paris (ca. 1923/24); to Mr. Julien Levy (1930s?-1981), by descent; to Mrs. Julien Levy (1981-1987), sold; [through Galerie Folker Skulima, Berlin, 6/12/87], to Dr. Arend Oetker (1987-2010), gift; to Busch-Reisinger Museum, 2010.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Gift of Dr. Arend Oetker, donated through the Arbeitskreis für Kulturelle Aufgaben im Ausland (AKA), Committee for the Promotion of Arts Abroad
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art

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Publication History

  • John Russell, Max Ernst: Life and Work (New York, 1967), Nr. 15
  • Werner Spies, Sigrid Metken, and Günter Metken, ed., Max Ernst: Werke 1906-1925, exh. cat. (Köln, Germany & Houston, 1975), Vol. 2, Nr. 635
  • William A. Camfield, Werner Spies, and Walter Hopps, Max Ernst: Dada and the Dawn of Surrealism, exh. cat. (Munich, Germany & Houston, 1993), Nr. 169, Plate 158
  • Siegfried Gohr, ed., Wahre Wunder: Sammler & Sammlungen im Rheinland, exh. cat. (Köln, Germany, 2000), Nr. G12, Plate 165
  • Barbara Eschenburg, Mechthild Fend, and Andreas Tacke, Pygmalions Werkstatt: die Erschaffung des Menschen im Atelier von der Renaissance bis zum Surrealismus, exh. cat., ed. Helmut Friedel (Köln & München, Germany, 2001), P. 270-71, Nr. 114
  • Werner Spies, Iris Müller-Westermann, and Kirsten Degel, ed., Max Ernst: Dream and Revolution, exh. cat. (Ostfildern, Germany, 2008), p. 84

Exhibition History

  • 32Q: 1500 Art in Germany Between the Wars (Expressionism-Interwar), Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 08/05/2019
  • 32Q: 1520 Art in Germany Between the Wars (Interwar and Bauhaus), Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/04/2021 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Collection Highlights

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Verification Level

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