Noah sends a Dove from the Ark; Jean DREUX; c. 1450; miniature on vellum; Museum Meermanno Westreenianum, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague

 Museum Meermanno

Noah's ark

Unerstand the scene

In front of the wickedness of men, God provokes a Flood to engulf all men except Noah who will be saved, together with his family and all the beasts, thanks to the Ark.

The ark is a vessel designed to float and not to sail; it has no oar, no rudder but its shape evolves according to the progress of ship-building. A simple coffer in the antiquity, the Latin “arca” meaning trunk or chest/box, it becomes a floating house or basilica then a Viking boat and eventually a three-decked ship for men, mammals and birds.

The boarding. It should represent eight persons: Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives, and then “all” the animals in couples. According to the size of the picture the emphasis is put on Noah and a few beasts: the lions, often at the front, the giraffes, the pigeons…

During the Flood. The ark floats on the water, the beasts appear at the windows, the rain falls heavily but the flood is seldom seen.

The end of the Flood. It is signalled by the return of the dove. Noah sees it bring back a branch of olive. Behind them a rainbow is the sign of the Covenant between God and Noah’s family, the new mankind. Noah also offers a sacrifice to thank God.


The biblical narrative

The Book of Genesis, chapters 6 to 9

And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth.

And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.

And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air.

But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD…(Genesis 6:5-8)


God asks him to build “an ark of gopher wood” with three stories and covered with a roof. Then God asks him to fill the ark with all species. Noah does what God has ordered him to do; he gets into the ark with his family and all the beasts: And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him. (Genesis 7:16)


And the rain begins to fall for forty days; this is the Flood. The Mountains are covered with water, all the living beings perish. When the rain stops Noah opens the window of the ark, he successively releases the crow then the dove. The second time, the dove “came in to him in the evening; and, behold, in her mouth was an olive leaf plucked off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.” (Genesis 8:11)

God asks Noah to get off the ark with his family and all the beasts and he establishes with them an eternal alliance and gives them a sign of it: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. (Genesis 9:13)



Noah is a new Adam, the just man with whom God establishes a new covenant, a new world. The salvation through the waters of the Flood has been understood by Christians as an image of baptism.

See similar pictures


The building of the ark is very often represented in all periods.


Noah builds the Ark;; Chronicle of Nuremberg



Noah and his Sons building the Ark; RAPHAEL; 1518 fresco; Raphael’s Loggia; Vatican Palace

 Christus Rex


The scene of the beasts getting on board the ark gives an opportunity to establish a hierarchy of the different species.


The Beasts get on board the Ark; Guiard DES MOULINS; Bible Historiale; department of manuscripts; French 9; folio 15; Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris.

BN France



Noah’s Ark; Edward HICKS; 1846; oil on canvas; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Philadelphia

CGFA - A Virtual Art Museum


The navigation of the ark is less frequent; that of Saint-Savin is the most famous. It can be given a symbolical interpretation as in the stained glass window in which the Church represents the new mankind.


Noah’s Ark; Romanesque fresco; Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe, France




Noah’s Ark and the Vessel of the Church; between 1600 and 1625; stained glass window; Church of Saint Étienne du Mont, Paris

 In secula


Michelangelo paints the ark seen by those who are condemned to the death brought by the Flood.


The Flood; MICHELANGELO Buonarroti; 1509 fresco; Sistine Chapel; Vatican Palace

 In secula




Further developpements



The myth of the Flood

This myth is of Babylonian origin but in other civilisations one can find this idea of a re-creation of the world because of the fault of men.

Thus in Greek mythology, after the flood, Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha have a new mankind be born again from stones.

In the Bible though there is no re-creation but salvation from a small remainder and men and beasts are interdependent.


The ark

a living world in miniature that has escaped from a fatal catastrophe, is a strong image of mankind fleeing from a disaster. It has inspired the spacecraft that escape from a nuclear disaster and are launched into an interstellar escapade.


At the time when the nuclear threat seemed to be growing, Jean Lurçat had his tapestry “The great Threat” woven; it transposes St Savin’s Noah’s ark (Musée de la Tapisserie, Angers, France)


Two “signs” of the end of the Flood have remained with us.

The rainbow bending over the earth, calm after the tempest, evokes God’s benevolence. The Christian Middle-Ages interpreted its colours: the colour blue was said to evoke the waters of the Flood, the colour red destruction and the colour green the new earth.

The dove carrying its branch of olive is still the symbol of peace; it was already the symbol of the Roman goddess Pax but this image was given a new impetus by Pablo Picasso in 1949 when he drew a dove to denounce the American atom bomb! The Cold War between the USA and the Soviet Union has made it very popular.




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