Here, I will now reveal the encoded information concerning one of the so-called "Arcadian Paintings" as featured in the book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, authored by Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, (1983).


The painting in question was painted sometime between, 1618 and 1622 by Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri Guerchin) – an Italian Baroque period Painter, (1591–1666). It is also the very first painting to feature the enigmatic phrase “ET IN ARCADIA EGO”, which is also it's title.


The ‘key’ to the encoded information in this painting is first knowing how the 23.5-degree tilt of the Earth was determined by the earliest ancient astronomers; because encoded in the painting is a rather veiled but clever reference to the ancient method of measuring the Earth's obliquity with a simple stick or an obelisk, as discussed in the presentation, The Internal Eclipse Part 5: The “Theory of Shadows”: The Early Science of Determining the Earth's Obliquity Angle.


Obviously such knowledge was considered heresy under the Catholic Church whose powerbrokers had adopted Ptolemy’s Geoconcentric view; the Church enforcing the belief that the Earth doesn't rotate, is perfectly upright and is positioned at the centre of the known universe and that it is the universe that rotates around it.


However, many individuals knew that this view of the Earth was completely false, and we can see why certain individuals who had been initiated into the true facts about the Earth, should challenge this belief by encoding these facts in paintings and other sources, thereby bringing attention to the true condition of the Earth, tilted as it is by 23.5 degrees from the Ecliptic, and that it rotates on an axis at this same angle. These geophysical elements along with the esoteric principles of 'Duality' and the 'neutral point of Balance' are hidden in Guercino's painting.




Both shepherds are viewed as male, being often referred to as brothers. The figure dressed in Red is obviously male; he has a beard expressing a trait associated with masculinity, while the soft and rounded features of the figure dressed in White are leaning more toward the feminine.


These two individuals are clearly leaning away from each other, reminding us of this image of John the Evangelist, "the Divine" (which some say is really Mary Magdalene), leaning away from Jesus in Leonardo Da Vinci’s mural – The Last Supper. 



























This ‘leaning away’ from each other, but as if both are also joined at the hip, again symbolises the same division and Duality we find illustrated in Alchemical, Androgyne or Hermathrodite imagery. These images are used to convey certain phases in the alchemical process. However at a deeper level, they symbolise the duality of the positive (male) and negative (female) forces inherent within all of us - and more importantly the union of these forces and principles - at the same time giving reference to the generative "Third Force" that unites and binds them together and where both become neutralised as One.


The symbolism is basically telling us that during our life cycle on Earth we reincarnate as either a male or female. However within each of us this same division and duality exists; in that we each have a Solar (masculine) and Lunar (feminine) side.

The message is, that one has the ability to transform oneself back to the 'True higher Self' which is beyond all duality - becoming as wise and knowledeable as the genderless Soul which is one's true nature, and as was believed, one becomes again after death.


Some of these images show the male and female leaning away from each other (Duality), but again, also joined together - usually at the hip (united as one, like the genderless human soul as was/is believed).































Returning to Guercino's painting. It’s possible that the shaven figure in White is female – which again, reinforces the theme of opposites as in ‘male and female’, ‘positive and negative’, Yang and Yin etc., and this is a further clue as to what these two individuals really represent. Indeed everything about these two individuals conveys the theme of Duality and there are numerous associations we can make with these two shepherds which can almost take us to the point of exhaustion.


In esoteric symbolism, the colours Red and White represent the dual opposites - Red often being associated with the male, and White with the female - although both are interchangeable with each gender. The colour Black or dark blue, present in the plumage of the Phoenix in the Alchemical image above on the left, represents Neutrality and Balance - aspects of the 'Third Force' that unites the first two forces or opposites. The Triadic theme of Red, White and Black is a common one in esoteric symbolism and literature and we find these same three colours, along with the colour Gold, in the two 'Arcadian Shepherds' paintings by Nicolas Poussin, which also feature the Latin phrase "ET IN ARCADIA EGO",  as well as in other sources of art.


It is agreed by many that the two shepherds in Guercino's painting are Cain and Abel – the sons of Adam and Eve, and again this has symbolic connotations relating to the polar opposites as expressed in Abel “good” and Cain “evil”.

If these two figures are Cain and Abel, then does the skull belong to Adam, their father? 


However, it could also be the skull of the god Osiris – the two young men being his son Horus and his brother Set who went to war with each other after his death, as also repeated in the story of Cain and Abel.


The skull completes the Triad and again, most prominent is the ancient Egyptian triad of Osiris, Isis and Horus, or even Osiris, Set and Horus. We are told that Set fought Horus from the South (Upper Egypt) symbolised by the white crown, and that Horus fought Set from the North (Lower Egypt) symbolised by the red crown.

Again one’s triumph over the division of opposites is possibly being referenced here in this ancient Egyptian myth of the ‘union of the two lands’ and when Horus defeated Set.


But however we may interpret it, ultimately the theme of opposites is clerely being expressed here and we are required not to get caught up in specific names or dual meanings, only to remind ourselves that Duality is a common esoteric theme expressed in the Bible and also in many myths, stories and traditions, and that we are required to go beyond the Duality to find balance and Truth, and ultimately to the all-non-thing, as it were, that unites and connects everything together.


Also, Summer is related to the Sun and the colour Red, and therefore the male principle, while Winter is related to the Moon and the colour White and therefore the feminine principle.


Now after everything that has been said, it may not have escaped the reader’s notice that these two individuals could also represent the 'Two Johns' of the Gospels who also feature in Masonic symbolism – the bearded male in Red being John the Baptist, and the shaven, feminine, person in White – John the Evangelist, again otherwise known as John "the Divine".


Through my research I discovered that in over 30 paintings of John the Baptist, painted between the 15th and 18th centuries, John's index finger is pointing at the angle of 23.5°.

The so called "John Gesture", in which John and other religious or historical figures are depicted with their index fingers pointing straight up as if at zero obliquity, is fairly well known now due to the work of authors Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince who noticed that this gesture was a common motif in Leonardo Da Vinci paintings. The other gesture, where John and others are shown pointing at all eight orientations of 23.5° . . . is not.


The most likely explanation for these 23.5° references in the majority of these Baptist paintings is the Baptist’s ‘Feast Day’ on 24th June, being the Summer Solstice – the day when the Sun is on the ‘Tropic of Cancer’ and 23.5 degrees north of the Equator.

And again, John shares this trait with his “twin” counterpart, John the Evangelist or "the Divine" whose ‘Nativity date’ takes place on 27th December – the Winter Solstice – the day when the Sun is on the ‘Tropic of Capricorn’ and therefore 23.5 degrees south of the Equator.


The Two Johns then represent the two forces or opposites, as reflected in the fact that they are associated with the Summer and Winter Solstices, where and when from our point of view, the Sun reaches each of the two extreme opposite halves of the cycle.



































As mentioned earlier, we are told in the history and science books that the earliest astronomers had managed to calculate the tilt of the Earth by using a simple stick, which then evolved into the single or double obelisks, gnomons and pillars we see today in Egypt and other ancient locations.

Anyway, these early astronomers would place a stick vertically in the ground on a level surface and then measure the length of the shadow.    

They understood that the changing angles of the Sun’s rays and at different times of the year should result in different length shadows if the same stick is measured at specific times – i.e., always at noon and especially during the Solstices and the Equinoxes.

The stick would measure a very short shadow during the Summer Solstice (caused by the Sun being high in the sky) and a long shadow during the Winter Solstice (caused by the Sun being low in the sky.) They then used simple trigonometry to determine the angular variation of the Sun and found that the angular height varies around 23.5 degrees – or whatever the obliquity (tilt) of the Earth’s axis was at that time between either the Equinoxes and the Solstices.


Now look again at the painting by Guercino. The individual in Red represents the male principle and therefore he would represent the Summer half of the cycle.

The individual in White represents the feminine principle and therefore the Winter half of the cycle.

shep def


In solving the mystery of this painting we can perhaps solve the other 'Arcadian' paintings that are said to contain a code, and more likely than not, contain the same information, and yet there is more that we can add to this painting in terms of symbology – especially in regard to the tilt of the Earth.


When viewing this painting for the first time, the eyes are naturally drawn to these two different sized staffs, and one has the distinct feeling that they point to something more than merely bringing attention to the two Solstice positions of the Sun.

Well they do mean something, in that we are being told that the Earth’s axis had suddenly tilted giving us the cycle of the seasons and the Duality of Summer (positive) and Winter (negative) expressed in the lengths of the two staffs.


And if we are in any doubt about this interpretation, then all we have to do is look again at the skull towards which the shepherds are both gazing.













































One could interpret this painting to be symbolic of the “fall of man” and that this “fall” was associated with the belief in the fall of the Earth and the axis from its vertical alignment with the One – the Source-Centre of Creation, as also represented here by the skull of Adam/Osiris - the "first man" who also represents ‘Everyman’.


The skull is symbolic, in that it appears to represent the human race at the time of the ‘Golden Age’, now ‘dead’ and gone due to a cataclysm of some kind – again one that possibly tipped the Earth’s axis away from its upright position with the Pole of the Ecliptic and from the ‘Ecliptic Centre’.


Note that there is a single ‘All-Seeing Eye’ above the skull and on top of the high, vertical, pedestal-like feature, which resembles a cliff.

It’s possible that the skull is making a reference to the great ‘father god’ of both Osiris and Set – Atum-Ra – or Atum-Re, in that as a result of the tilt of the Earth’s axis, the Earth and man had become separated from the “Heavenly Father” as represented by this pagan ‘father god’.


It has also been suggested that the father god Atum-Ra actually represented the ‘Ecliptic Centre’ – the ‘unmoving point’ in the heavens to which the Earth’s pole was perhaps once vertically aligned or believed should be. The Solar symbol or Sun-disk hieroglyph also known as the ‘Eye of Ra’ can also be used to illustrate the circular motion of the axis, which marks out the cycle of precession around this circumpunct, Ecliptic Centre. So in this case, the skull also symbolises the Earth which had become tilted, which is why the skull is inclined by 23.5 degrees.


The way in which the two figures are leaning away from each other, suggests that we are also looking at a symbolic ‘divide’ here and an ‘imbalance’ – meaning that man is now trapped in cycles that swing between positive and negative and in the extreme.


Symbolically, this painting is saying that after the tilt of the axis, that from this point on man became trapped within ‘time’ and the cycles of opposites – as expressed in the ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ extremes of the seasons. And if so, then whatever had caused the “fall” into what was the first ‘Winter’ and therefore the seasons, was seen as something “evil” which would apply to the god Set.


Set not only represents the SETting Sun in the daily cycle and where the Sun was believed to enter the Underworld, but he also represents Winter in the annual cycle and when the Sun is low in the sky (like a serpent close to the ground) and when the hours of daylight are short.


On the other hand, Horus not only represents the rising Sun in the daily cycle but he also represents Summer when the Sun is high in the sky (like an ascended hawk) and daylight is long. So, like the opposites of ‘day’ and ‘night’, the seasons also reflect the age-old struggle between “good” and “evil” which was also seen to be a consequence of this “fall”.


I would say that despite whatever meanings we give to the opposites as represented by the two shepherds, that again we seem to have here the universal Triad or Trinity, being the ‘One’ (represented by the skull), which after the “fall” has become divided into opposites (represented by the two shepherds).


For me the mystery of this painting has now been more or less solved, and we find further confirmation for this when we examine the other paintings on the 'Shepherds of Arcadia' theme.





Now look at the lengths of the two staffs held by the shepherds . . .


The stick or staff held by the shepherd in Red is mostly hidden and it indeed looks as if he is holding a short stick – perhaps indicating the shorter shadow of the stick during Summer.

The stick held by the individual in White is very long in length, indicating the long shadow of the stick during Winter.


If these two shepherds are indeed the ‘Two Johns’, then they also represent the twin pillars named Jachin and Boaz first mentioned in the Bible, which perhaps brings us to the original function of these two pillars, each of which symbolise the Sun’s declination on the horizon during the Summer and Winter solstices – the obelisk being used to determine the tilt angle of the Earth in the first place. However, I would emphasise that we are dealing here with a really clever code which is multifaceted and multi-layered and conveys several themes at once.


Figure 1: ET IN ARCADIA EGO by Guercino (1618–1722).


Figure 2: Detail from The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci. (1495 - 1498).


Figure 7 Figure 9

Figure 4: Detail from ET IN ARCADIA EGO by Guercino (1618–1722).

Long Staff (symbolising Long Shadow) held by figure in White representing Winter.

Short Staff (symbolising Short Shadow) held by figure in Red representing Summer.


The painting features two shepherds: one cleanly shaven and dressed in white and the other bearded, dressed in rustic red and wearing a red cap. Both shepherds are looking at a worm and fly-infested skull on a stone pedestal on which the famous Latin phrase is inscribed. This cryptic phrase is discussed in some depth in another presentation.




Alchemy 2 Alchemy 3

Figure 3: Left: An illustration of a Hermaphrodite from the Aurora Consurgens; A Document Attributed to Thomas Aquinas on the Problem of Opposites in Alchemy. Thomas Aquinas; Marie-Louise von Franz. (15th century). London: Routledge & K. Paul OCLC: 954735.

Right: Isis and Osiris as twin serpents. Greco-Roman Bronze figure showing Isis and Osiris with serpent tails intertwined.

From The Sirius Mystery by Robert Temple, 1997, Fig. 31).


In any case, all things following logically, all this would mean that the two figures in Guercino's painting most likely represent John the Baptist (figure in Red) and John the Evangelist (figure in White), who are each identified with the ancient Egyptian deities Osiris and Isis, and therefore they also represent the twin Masonic pillars Jachin and Boaz, which in turn signify the two rising positions of the Sun on the north-eastern and south-eastern horizons during the Summer and Winter Solstices. 


I would suggest that the reader look closely at the Guercino painting with the above in mind, as it most certainly contains a superfluity of meanings associated with the opposites. But my favourite personal interpretation of this painting – and one that clinches it for me is this, and it is really very simple . . .

Copyright © G Osborn. 2005. Updated 2012. All Rights Reserved

Gary Osborn

by Guercino (1618–1722)

Figure 6

If we draw a line beginning from between the top row of front teeth, through the centre of the nasal hole, and in-between the eye sockets of the skull, we will find that the skull is leaning at an angle of 23.5 degrees.

This could be argued, but the fluted or ridged lay of the land to the left of the skull is also angled at 23.5° and perpendicular to the angle of the skull, showing that the Earth, like the skull that signifies "death", is off balance and ‘out of kilter’.




Figure 5: The skull leaning at 23.5 degrees in ET IN ARCADIA EGO by Guercino (1618–1722).