What the World Stands on

  • The ancient Chinese model of the universe was centered on a giant sea turtle who carried the earth on its back.
  • As based on the tortoise, the shell was a dome that represented the canopy of heaven and its belly represented the earth floating on water.

It is noteworthy that until the beginning of the 20th Century, it had not occurred to anyone that the universe could expand or shrink. Everyone thought that either the universe always existed as is, or that it was created at some point in the past and remains unchanged ever since.

The upper part of the painting reminds us of the universe being created by the Big Bang and then keeping static (see Sunset by the Ocean by the artist). The turtle carrying the world on its back reflects the human inclination to believe in the ultimate truths, in the permanence of the once created universe. The deliberation of the turtle makes it a symbol of constancy.