Portrait of Hieronymus Bosch The subjective, individualistic art of Hieronymus Bosch is one of the most enigmatic in the history of art. His art has been discussed by myriad scholars. He has been seen as a surrealist, as a member of a heretical sect that celebrated sexual libertinism, both erroneous assumptions. Such diverse sources as folklore, proverbs, astrology, astronomy and alchemy have been used to interpret his paintings. Yet the intricacies of his subject matter have resisted any cogent, unified explanation. Most critics agree, however, that Bosch was a moralist, a pessimist who viewed with a sardonic eye man's inevitable descent into sin and damnation. In the furtherance of his moral narrative he paid little attention to the stylistic achievements of his Flemish predecessors and developed a flat style in which he essentially disregarded natural lighting, chiaroscuro, and plasticity of form. Apparently its mastery came rapidly, and it led to an alla prima, or direct-painting, manner. Such a style was well suited to its purpose, the transformation into paint of moral sermons that constantly reiterate man‟s folly and its inevitable consequence of punishment in Hell. This moral was either stated or implied in almost all his work from beginning to end. Basically pessimistic, Bosch repeated almost ad infinitum that man‟s salvation can be achieved through the instrumentality of Christ‟s sacrifice and the heroic acts of the saints whose example we must emulate. He stood to one side to comment with sardonic wit that the moral lesson is unread by humans in general. Probably born in 1453, he died in 1516. His painter grandfather went from Aachen as early as 1399 to the town of „sHertogenbosch, a prosperous, provincial center in northern Brabant. He was probably taught by his father, who was also a painter. Very little documentation exists about Bosch‟s life and career. He was a member of the Confraternity of Notre Dame from 1486 until his death, he was paid in 1504 for a Last Judgment commissioned by Philip the Handsome, and he designed a crucifix and stained-glass window for his confraternity, in addition to making paintings. His work for his confraternity from 1480-81 and for princely patrons indicates that, despite keeping his shop in „sHertogenbosch, he was well know beyond its walls. Many of his ideas were apparently engraved by a fellow townsman and many of his paintings were copied by his contemporaries and his numerous followers. Seven Deadly Sins The painted tabletop of the Seven Deadly Sins is considered his earliest work. It was a favorite painting of Philip II of Spain, who also owned its lost companion piece of the Seven Sacraments. Five circles stand on a black background. The four smallest ones, in the four corners, show the final stages of life: Death, Judgment, Hell and Glory. Two scrolls with Latin verses from the Book of Deuteronomy warn of the consequences of sin. The first (32: 28-29) reads “For they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them,” and the second (32: 20): “O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end.” The central circle is larger than the others and looks like an eye. In its pupil appears Christ, Man of Sorrow and the phrase “Take care, take care, God is watching.” The Sins are illustrated by genre sins in the compartments about the center, and the corner scenes show their outcome in the form of the “four last things:” Death Death (shown by the death of a man in bed); the Last Judgment; the entry of the saved into Paradise; and in the lower left-hand corner, the punishment of the Seven Deadly Sins in Hell. Envy and Sloth All the Sins are strongly physical rather than allegorical in conception. Anger Pride Pride, in an interior, shows a woman in a headdress primping before a mirror held by a devil. Luxury Luxury shows two self-indulgent couples and a fool beaten by a shepherd‟s spoon at the right. Avarice Avarice shows a corrupt judge accepting bribes from rich and poor alike. Gluttony Death and the Miser In this slender panel, probably a wing from a larger altarpiece, a dying man seems torn between salvation and his own avarice. The panel presents in no uncertain terms the stupidity and folly of a dying man who, at the moment of death, reaches for the bag of money offered to him by a demon appearing from under the bed hangings and does not heed the angel who points out the salvation he could achieve by turning to Christ on the crucifix shown before the high window. A lantern containing the fire of Hell, carried by the demon atop the bed canopy, balances the cross, which emits a single ray of divine light Originally Bosch had gone even further, for X-rays shown that the vessel of the last sacrament was once held in the miser‟s left hand. The meaning is clear: at the moment of death he would even sell the sacraments to the devil. The figure in the middle ground, perhaps representing the miser earlier in his life, is shown as hypocritical; with one hand he puts coins into the strongbox where they are collected by a rat-faced demon, and with the other he fingers a rosary, attempting to serve God and Mammon at the same time. A demon emerging from underneath the chest holds up a paper sealed with red wax -- perhaps a letter of indulgence or a document that refers to the miser's mercenary activities. Thus Bosch comments ironically and pessimistically on human nature and its avarice even at the last moment of life. Avarice was one of the seven deadly sins and among the final temptations described in the Ars moriendi (Art of Dying), a religious treatise probably written about 1400 and later popularized in printed books. Bosch's painting is similar to illustrations in these books, but his introduction of ambiguity and suspense is unique. This panel is thinly painted. In several areas it is possible to see in the underdrawing where Bosch changed his mind about the composition. Haywain, exterior A ragged man is pursued by a dog on the exterior of the Haywain triptych. The shabby, emaciated man walks alone, carrying a walking stick in his hand and a basket on his back. He turns his head to look at the dog that snarls behind him. Numerous attempts have been made to identify this figure. He has been called, among other things, the Prodigal Son, the Wayfarer, a fool, a peddler, Saturn, a personification of melancholy, a man endangered by the sin of sloth, a drunkard, and Everyman, the Christian pilgrim. Bosch's ragged man is in fact a personification of poverty, a personification that follows conventions established in works of art and literature of the late Middle Ages. The landscape on the exterior of the Haywain is filled with motifs that are strongly suggestive of evil. Bones are scattered in the foreground; one magpie is already perched on them and a second magpie is flying in to join it. Across the path, to the left, three thieves are robbing a man and tying him to a tree. To the right, a peasant man and woman dance to bagpipe music that is being played by a third figure seated beneath a tree. In the distance, on top of a hill, an execution is taking place with a crowd gathered around to watch. Bones, magpies, thievery, dancing, and executions - common symbols for evil - are not at all unusual in Bosch's paintings. This landscape is clearly a microcosmic image of a sinful world, a hostile environment for the unfortunate man who travels through it. It is not surprising that Bosch would put a representation of poverty on the exterior of the Haywain triptych. Christ-like poverty was the virtue that could most successfully oppose the deadly sin of avarice; only by submitting to voluntary poverty could one be sure to avoid temptations of the flesh like those depicted in the central panel of the Haywain. Interior Most scholars agree that the sin of avarice is the main theme of the interior of the Haywain. Research on Flemish proverbs and linguistic studies on the Dutch word for hay suggest that the haywagon itself symbolizes earthly riches. A common Flemish proverb was: "The world is a haystack and each man plucks from it what he can." Central panel All the characters associated with the wagon have fallen prey to the sinful desire to amass or enjoy worldly, material goods. The amorous couples on top of the haywagon clearly represent lust, worldly love that is misdirected toward human flesh rather than human souls. The crowd that grabs and fights for hay demonstrates the blind folly involved in the pursuit of worldly possessions. The princely figures following the wagon represent worldly power, dominion over the material earth. The foreground vignettes seem to portray secondary vices that are associated with the accumulation of "hay," though the precise meanings of some of these scenes are still unclear. The fat abbot with nuns gathering bags of hay for him while he drinks certainly appears to be gluttonous. The nun and the bagpipe player seem to be lustful. The quack doctor has filled his pocket with hay. The scenes to the left involving children and adults are not conclusively identified. Side panels The side panels of the triptych show the origin and the final result of sin. The left illustrates the Original Sin. Above, a swarm of Falling Angels fills the sky. In the background God creates Eve from Adam's rib, while in the middle ground Adam is about to accept the fateful apple from the serpent coiled around the Tree of Knowledge. Finally, in the foreground, the Archangel Michael drives Adam and Eve from Paradise. The illustration of Hell on the right panel shows sinners being punished for their earthly vices. The haywagon is clearly being dragged toward this destination. Hawain exterior with Rotterdam Tondo Although the main figure in the Rotterdam tondo is essentially the same as that on the Haywain exterior, the background is completely different. There are also a number of details related to the Rotterdam poor man that are not present in the Haywain version. These variations in the minor imagery are extremely important. They indicate that the Rotterdam tondo represents a second and very different way in which poverty was conceived by the medieval mind: involuntary poverty, the affliction meted out to those who waste their substance in sinful indulgence. Throughout medieval literature there are references to poverty as one of the wages of sin. In the background of the Rotterdam tondo there is a dilapidated building that is clearly a tavern and brothel. A jug is propped on a stick at the peak of the roof, a sign hanging to the side has a swan on it, and there is a magpie in a cage next to the door.44 Within the doorway a man embraces a woman and a man urinates at the side of the building. Next to the main figure there is a tree with an owl and a magpie perched in it. A gate, with yet another magpie on it, blocks the path in front of the man. The poor man in this painting has a bandaged sore on his left leg, and he has apparently lost one of his shoes and replaced it with a slipper. He has several new possessions, including a small hoof tucked into his vest, a purse hang- ing conspicuously at his side, a catskin on his basket, and a hat stuck with an awl holding a loop of thread, which he carries in his outstretched hand. These alterations in Bosch's second representation of the poor man create an image that is antithetical to the concept of Christian virtue. To begin with, when figures in Northern European art are shown in front of taverns, they are usually associated with the kind of activities that take place within them. One's suspicion that the Rotterdam poor man was a frequenter of taverns and brothels is increased by the other changes that Bosch made in the painting. The precise symbolic meaning of some of these details may be irretrievably lost in forgotten folk proverbs and jokes, but some observations can nonetheless be made about them, with varying degrees of certainty. The connection between carnality and leprosy was unanimously accepted in religious, medical, and popular theories: "for what is the impurity of leprosy, unless it is the sin of lust?" Leprosy was believed to be a venereal disease that one was most likely to contract in brothels. This belief was so ubiquitous that Bosch's apparent association of leprous sores with taverns and brothels seems quite unexceptional. The appearance of a sore on the leg of the man in the Rotterdam tondo reinforces our suspicion that he has been frequenting the house that is shown behind him. The fact that the Rotterdam poor man has lost a shoe leads to the same conclusion. Drunkenness and consorting with prostitutes were condemned for being extravagant as well as sinful pastimes in the Middle Ages. They were denounced by moralists who formulated bleak descriptions of the consequences of such unseemly, immoderate activities. The loss of one's clothing and particularly one's shoes as a result of gambling and other forms of prodigality in the taverns was a familiar topos in such literature throughout the Middle Ages. Other new objects associated with the Rotterdam poor man include the little hoof, the catskin, the hat with the awl stuck in it, and the purse that hangs at his side. The hoof appears to be associated with gluttony and lust - sins that were known to prosper in public houses. The meaning of the catskin hanging on the poor man's basket is more enigmatic. However, some there is popular association between dead cats and dissipation. The hat that the poor man carries in the Rotterdam tondo is another detail that is difficult to explain. Since the Dutch word hoede means both “hat” and “care or guard,” the expression "buten hoede" has a double meaning: "without hat" or "hat off" and "without care" or "off guard." The man in the Rotterdam tondo is thus shown "off guard" - subject to the beguilement of sin - because he is hatless.The awl that is stuck into the hat of the poor man in the Rotterdam tondo and the purse that he carries reinforce the idea that this man has brought about his own downfall through dissipation. The purse that the Rotterdam poor man carries indicates that he has not voluntarily accepted Christian poverty; such a virtuous individual would have no need of a purse since he would not carry money. The figures on the Haywain exterior and the Rotterdam tondo thus illustrate quite aptly the two contrasting attitudes that existed toward poverty in the Middle Ages. Voluntary poverty, promoted by the Franciscans and the Devotio Moderna, was the most admirable of virtues, the symbol of Christian perfection. Bosch represented voluntary poverty on the outside of the Haywain triptych as the Christian alternative to, and protection against, avarice. For the Rotterdam tondo, Bosch used essentially the same figure to represent the same idea - poverty. However, the changes that he made in the secondary imagery of the Rotterdam tondo changed the interpretation of poverty from that of the most Christ- like virtue to one of the wages of sin. Temptation of St. Anthony The temptation of St. Anthony epitomizes Bosch‟s unique expression and relation to his age. He lived in a time of pestilence and turbulence, of economic, social and religious unrest, an age that believed in the Antichrist, Apocalyptic visions, alchemy and witchcraft. Yet it was also an age of rational investigation and humanistic approach. The situation was not alleviated by a famous astrologer‟s prognostication in 1499 that the world would come to an end with a second deluge on February 25, 1524. This was widely believed, for astrology was taught in the universities and its predictions were listened to at court. It was an age of extreme pessimism, the natural outcome of a belief in demons fostered by the Church itself: Thomas Aquinas had said that all that happens visibly in this world can be done by demons. Belief in the coming of the Antichrist was equally widespread. Temptation exterior Pessimism has been seen in Bosch in the reiteration of human folly. He continually repeated the theme of the salvation of a foolish, evil world through Christ‟s sacrifice. It appears on the exterior grisailles of the Temptation of St. Anthony, the scenes of the Taking of Christ and the Carrying of the Cross, which Bosch equated with the interior scenes of Anthony‟s temptations. From the account of St. Anthony‟s life current in Bosch‟s time, it is clear that Anthony represented a type, the heroic and most elevated soul, tempted more strongly than ordinary mortals yet resistant to the fiercest attack upon his belief. Temptation interior Anthony‟s temptations were of two kinds: tentatio in its meaning of a trial, that is, the temptation of the flesh in the form of worldly goods and sexual inducements—always rejected; and tentatio in its meaning of an attack. Bosch was a significant innovator; he combined the two meanings into a single representation spread over 3 panels, organized compositionally along diagonals. He also elevated the saint to a position comparable to that of Christ. Left wing Just below center on the interior left wing Anthony is being returned along the bridge to his cell. His elevation and beating by demons is seen in the sky above. One demon dives under his cloak. A fox-headed demon beats the saint with a branch. A twin-tailed, armored merman riding an open- mouthed fish attacks, using another fish as a lance. Kneeling man In the middle ground a habitation is created from the back view of a kneeling man with grass growing over his back. He is rooted in earth, which to Bosch meant being rooted in sin. This meaning is emphasized by the rear view and by the woman at the window embrasure at the left, a prostitute waiting for customers. Fish A fantastic fish form with a church tower on its back approaches down the path while apparently swallowing another fish. This might seem to illustrate the Flemish proverb that the big fish eat the little fish, but the greedy eyeing of an apparently edible ball, suspended before it as a steering device, suggests greed and envy, combined with an allusion to the rapacity of the Church. The whole figure, however, seems to be Bosch‟s transformation of an armored elephant with a howdah on its back, a motif found in battle scenes in early 15th-century manuscripts, and the tail in the creature‟s mouth resembles an elephant‟s trunk. The elephant with a tower was a medieval symbol for the Virgin, for according to lore, it was notoriously sluggish in sexual matters and thus was associated with chastity. It was said that the female elephant cannot conceive unless she first lucks the mandrake from outside the gate of Paradise and then eats and offers it to her mate to awaken his sexual desires. The moral presents the elephant as the ideal Christian spouse, who will mate without sexual appetite solely for the sake of offspring. Bosch‟s unvirtuous character, however, symbolizes the very opposite of such chaste behavior as it advances down the path toward the house of prostitution. It is clear that in this sinful world Christian virtues are transformed into their opposites. Stag On the right a curious trio appears. The stag, in a red cloak, was a common symbol of lechery in the moralizing tales of the period. The miter- crowned man holds a staff topped by a crescent, a clear reference to the terrifying, infidel Turks, who were then a strong threat to Europe. The decoration of his miter is abnormal, and flames emerge from it. These details are significant, however, for a heretic handed over to the Inquisition had a miter placed on his head just before burning. Heresy was considered a branch of the sin of pride. Bird on skates The evil trio under the bridge is approached by a funnel-crowned, sleepy- eyed bird on skates. There is a missive spiked on its beak, with an inscription that may be read as “oisuif” with an reversed f or “oisuy,” variants of modern French oisif, an idler, that is, Sloth. In truth this is a lazy bird who prefers skating on thin ice to walking. He slides into sin and sinful company. Bosch points out how people slide into sin by refusing to exercise freedom of will to resist the Devil. Bird on egg At lower left, perched on a gigantic egg, a large-beaked, featherless bird eats one of its own offspring as they hatch from the egg. Placed in a position of equal importance with the sleepy, slothful skater, this must be a unique presentation of Saturn, who devours his own child. Late medieval thought allied the planets and the Deadly Sins, and Saturn, being the slowest of the planets to orbit the earth, was allied, as here, with Sloth. Right wing Gluttony is the Deadly Sin castigated on the interior right wing, where Anthony is tempted to indulge in riotous living by the naked woman standing in water, an instrument of the devilish, lolling toad who grasps in one clawed foot her filmy garment that covers but does not conceal. The nude woman was probably inspired by the apocryphal story of the Devil Queen. In the tale of the saint‟s encounter with the Devil Queen, Anthony found her bathing nude in a river with her court. When properly dressed, she discoursed with the saint and invited him to visit her city, where she showed him its riches, demonstrated her miraculous power to heal the sick, and finally invited him to become her husband. Anthony‟s, overwhelmed by all this, declined, but she persisted and attempted to remove his monk‟s habit. This act he recognized as truly devilish and fought her off, whereupon devils flew in from every point and the battle began. After several days of fighting, Anthony emerged victorious. The figure with a foot in a pot, and the fantastic creature with both feet in a single shoe reinforce the idea of gluttony. In the middle distance there is a porcupine, a common medieval symbol for the temptations of the flesh, and a simple-faced figure in a 15th-century baby walker, to the rim of which is tied a jug; this figure is a castigation of drunkenness, which makes people childish and foolish. Foolish indeed, for the drunkard turns away from the saint whose model he should follow. Central panel with detail The theme of the central panel is that of a kneeling Anthony too weak from demonic beatings to rise, yet able to taunt his demonic tormentors to do their worst. But instead of taunting, Anthony turns to the spectator, his right hand raised in blessing, while the figure of Christ, who has made his victory possible, is almost lost in the shadows of a niche-like chapel. Behind Anthony appears the temptress, the lizard-tail of her gown revealing her true character. She offers a shallow cup of wine to two fantastic figures. The proffered wine is seemingly the saint vinage made annually at the seat of the Hospital Order of St. Anthony in the Dauphiné (southwestern France) by pouring wine over the saint‟s relics. This procedure was believed to give the wine miraculous curative powers, and the potion was given to those suffering from St. Anthony‟s Fire (probably ergotism from eating poisoned rye). Bosch alluded not only to the story of the Devil Queen and her pseudomiraculous cures but pessimistically showed also how demonic power to counterfeit all human acts could even make mockery of the good works of the hospital order. The lolling toad holding a cup, on the right wing, reinforces the idea. To the left of Anthony and the temptress in the central panel is a group dominated by Luna, the cold and moist planet of the night, responsible for the nocturnal aspect, and a reminder that Anthony‟s foul and troubling dreams came to him at night. Portrayed with yellow garments and face, Luna herself stands behind the table at Anthony‟s back, beside a young gambler, cup in hand, who is the gullible victim of the gesturing owl-crowned conjuror opposite. With Luna The source of this group lies in an Italian astrological engraving of Luna from a planet series of about 1460, in which a swindler in fool‟s attire cheats a gullible public before his table; a monkey, southern equivalent of the northern dog on a leash, clings to his leg. Further borrowings from the engraving are seen in the double-arched bridge at the right, which forms the base of a prison; the “clock” on the wall is a transformation of the sundial on the bridge in the engraving. He also borrowed the swimming and diving figures from it. With Saturn The mother and child of Saturn engraving have been transformed into the weird woman holding a swaddled baby as she rides a rat in the water at center right. Her body ends in a fishy tail like that of a strange mermaid, with its connotations of evil. Jupiter The Jupiter engraving in the planet series provided the motif of the thistle- headed hunter riding a metamorphosed jug beside the rat, and mastiffs of the same engraving have become the armored lap dogs preceding the tree-crowned, armored man in red stockings at the far left, clearly personifying Mars, the warlike planet. Center panel Taking the group in front of the platform together as a whole, we find a castigation of the vanity and folly of love tourneys, knights, and chivalrous ideals. The figures suggest stupidity, pugnacity, stubbornness and folly; all lead to Death and all are led by it. At the right of the platform, a pig- snouted, demonic priest reads from Anthony‟s book. reliefs On the ruined tower appear other scenes, in simulated relief. The figures dancing about the Golden Calf and the worship of the ape show a renunciation of that faith given to man through the Sacrament of Baptism. In giving artistic prominence, and therefore greatest attention, to Anthony, Bosch seemed to be elevating him above Christ; that Bosch was reputed in the 17th century to be a heretic may be due to this. total In the sky above, devils are in full control. Some burn a village at the left and others topple the church tower, possibly a warning of the coming of the Antichrist. High in the sky tot eh left a strange cavalcade is led by a gaunt demon mounted on a flying fish, with a bow over his shoulder. The cosmic character of this conception of the temptation of St. Anthony is overwhelming; air, earth, fire, water, wet and dry, heat and cold—everything in the heavens and on earth was Bosch‟s concern in this grand pictorial summa of all the beliefs and fears of medieval people, to which astrology and the theme of the Seven Deadly Sins, allied with the theme of Antichrist contributed the chief elements. The synthesis was carried further: the planets were related to specific sins, Saturn with Sloth, Luna with Envy, Mars with Wrath, Mercury with Avarice, Venus with Lust, Jupiter with Gluttony, and Sol with Pride. Garden of Earthly Delights, interior Bosch‟s extraordinary ability to organize disparate metamorphosed forms into a unified whole achieved its peak in the triptych called Garden of Earthly Delights. It shows Paradise and Hell scenes flanking the central panel. Central panel At first sight, the central panel confronts us with an idyll unique in Bosch‟s work: an extensive park-like landscape teeming with nude men and women who nibble on giant fruits, consort with birds and animals, frolic in the water and, above all, indulge in a variety of amorous sports overtly and without shame. A circle of male riders revolves like a great carousel around a pool of maidens in the center and several figures soar about in the sky on delicate wings. The carefree mood of the central panel is heightened by the clear and even lighting, the absence of shadows and the bright, high-keyed colors. The pale bodies of the inhabitants, accented by an occasional black-skinned figure, gleam like rare flowers against the grass and foliage. Behind the gaily colored fountains and pavilions of the background lake, a soft line of hill melts into the distance. The diminutive figures and the large, fanciful vegetable forms seem harmless, and when we stand before this picture, it is difficult not to agree with one art historian‟s insistence that the nude lovers “are peacefully frolicking about the tranquil garden in vegetative innocence, at one with animals and plants, and the sexuality that inspires them appears to be pure joy, pure bliss.” Indeed, we might be in the presence of the childhood of the world, the Golden Age, when men and beasts dwelt in peace together and the earth yielded her fruit abundantly and without effort. But was this crowd of naked lovers intended as an apotheosis of innocent sexuality? The sexual act was often seen by the Middle Ages as proof of man‟s fall from the state of angels, at best a necessary evil, at worst a deadly sin. The Bosch and his patrons shared fully in tis view we know from the contexts in which lovers appear in is other works and is further confirmed by the fact that his garden is situated between Eden and Hell, the origin of sin and its punishment. The Garden of Earthly Deligths depicts the sensual life, more specifically the deadly sin of lust. Various aspects of this sin are acted out in a forthright fashion. Many of the objects in the panel are erotic symbols inspired by popular songs, sayings and slang expressions of Bosch‟s time. Many of the fruits nibbled and held by the lovers serve as metaphors of the sexual organs; the fish which appear twice in the foreground occur as phallic symbols in Old Netherlandish proverbs. What Bosch shows us is a false paradise whose transient beauty leads men to ruin and damnation. Exterior The Creation of the world unfolds on the outer wings in subdued tonalities of gray and gray-green. The Creator appears in a rift in the clouds in the upper left-hand corner. With Sistine In the approximately contemporary frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo represented God as a sort of superhuman sculptor imposing form on the primordial chaos with his own hands. Bosch, on the other hand, shows God creating through his Word; he is passively enthroned and holds a book, while the divine fiat is recorded in an inscription near the upper edge from Psalms 33:9: “For he spake and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.” Light has been separated from darkness in the center of the wing and within the sphere of light, the waters have been divided above and below the firmament. Dark rain clouds gather over the dry land emerging slowly from the misty waters beneath. Already trees are sprouting from its humid surface, as well as curious growths, half vegetable, half-mineral, which anticipate the exotic flora of the inner panels. This is the earth as it stood on the third day of creation. Left panel detail On the reverse of the left wing, the grayness gives way to brilliant color and the last 3 days of Creation are accomplished. The earth and water have brought forth their swarms of living creatures, including a giraffe, an elephant, and some wholly fabulous creatures, like the unicorn. In the center rises the Fountain of Life, a tall, slender roseate structure resembling a delicately carved Gothic tabernacle. The precious gems glittering in the mid at its base and some of the more fanciful animals probably reflect the medieval descriptions of India, whose marvels had fascinated the West since the days of Alexander the Great and where popular belief situated the lost Paradise of Eden. Union of Adam and Eve In the foreground of this antediluvian landscape, we see not the Temptation and Expulsion of Adam and Eve, but their union by God. Taking Eve by the hand, he presents her to the newly awakened Adam who gazes at his creation from his rib with a mixture, it seems, of surprise and anticipation. God is himself much more youthful that his white-bearded counterpart on the outer wings, and represents the Deity in the guise of Christ, the second person of the Trinity and the Word of God made incarnate. The marriage of Adam and Eve illustrates the moment when he blessed them, saying “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it.” God‟s injunction to „be fruitful and multiply‟ could perhaps be construed as a mandate to indulge in the sort of activity taking place in the middle panel; but the Middle Ages thought otherwise. Instead it assumed that previous to the Fall, Adam and Eve would have copulated without lust, solely for the purpose of producing children. After the Fall, however, all this was changed; many people believed that the first sin committed after eating of the forbidden fruit had been carnal lust. Central panel In this respect, it is significant that no children can be found in the garden of the central panel, and that the inhabitants, far from subduing the earth, are in fact overshadowed by the giant birds and fruit. detail The garden thus shows not the fulfillment of God‟s injunction to Adam and Eve, but its perversion. Man has abandoned the true paradise for the false; he has turned from the Fountain of Life to drink from the fountain of the flesh which intoxicates and brings death. Right panel with detail of burning buildings The erotic dream of the garden of delights gives way to the nightmare reality of the right wing. It is Bosch‟s most violent vision of Hell. Buildings do not simply burn, they explode into the murky background, their fiery reflections turning the water below into blood. In the foreground a rabbit carries his bleeding victim on a pole. The hunted-become-hunter well expresses the chaos of Hell, where the normal relationships of the world are turned upside down. Lute details This is even more dramatically conveyed in the innocuous everyday objects which have swollen to monstrous proportions and serve as instruments of torture; they are comparable to the oversized fruits and birds of the central panel. One nude figure is attached by devils to the neck of a lute; another is helplessly entangled in the strings of a harp, while a third soul has been stuffed down the neck of a great horn. On the frozen lake in the middle ground, a man balances uncertainly on an oversized skate, and heads straight for the hole in the ice before him, where a companion already struggles in the freezing water. This episode echoes old Dutch expressions similar to our “to skate on thin ice,” illustrating a precarious situation indeed. Somewhat above, a group of victims have been thrust into a burning lantern, which will consume them like moths, while on the opposite side, another soul dangles through the handle of a door key. Behind, a huge pair of ears advances like some infernal army tank, immolating its victims by means of a great knife. The letter M engraved on the knife, which also appears on other knives in Bosch‟s paintings, has been thought represent the hallmark of some cutler whom the artist particularly disliked, but it more likely refers to Mundus (World), or possibly Antichrist, whose name, according to some medieval prophecies, would begin with this letter. Tree-man The focal point of Hell, occupying a position analogous to that of the Fountain of Life in the Eden wing, is the so-called Tree-Man, whose egg- shaped torso rests on a pair of rotting tree trunks that end of boats for shoes. His hind quarters have fallen away, revealing a hellish tavern scene within, while his head supports a large disc on which devils and their victims promenade around a large bagpipe. The face looks over one shoulder to regard, half wistfully, the dissolution of his own body. Pit Much more solid, in contrast, is the bird-headed monster at lower right, who gobbles up the damned souls only to defecate them into a transparent chamber pot from which they plunge into a pit below. Other sins can be identified in the area around the pit. The slothful man is visited in his bed by demons, and the glutton is forced to disgorge his food, while the proud lady is compelled to admire her charms reflected in the backside of a demon. total The Garden of Earthly Delights is the high point in Bosch‟s creation of imaginative, autonomous, fantastic allegorical organisms. No other work painted by him displays the same complexity of thought in such vivid images. As in the St. Anthony panels the interior forms are arranged in three zones; here they are lighter, more linear, more graceful and more like fanciful arabesques but governed by a sublime conceptual logic in which the reality of the allegorical images sweeps away all questions based on natural logic. Many of Bosch‟s works employ the standard religious format of the day, the three-part folding triptych. Some modern observers have assumed that this format implies that The Garden of Earthly Delights had a primarily religious function, being hung over a Christian altar. However, in the 1960s it was pointed out that the work was seen in the Brussels palace of Henry III of Nassau, Regent of the Netherlands, in 1517, one year after Bosch died. Carrying of the Cross Bosch makes use of the dramatic close-up to intensify the emotions of this theme and the malice of Christ‟s enemies reaches an hysterical pitch in this last Passion scene. The surface is filled with snarling, vicious heads of an evil throng. Bitterness and hatred confront the viewer immediately in startling proximity. Christ is accompanied by St. Veronica, an apocryphal figure not mentioned in the Bible, who supposedly wiped the sweat from face of Jesus as he struggled beneath the cross and thereby obtained a miraculous image of his features on her veil. The two thieves appear at the right. Around these 4 figures surge a howling mob, who scowl, leer and roll their eyes at their victims, their twisted and deformed faces glowing with an unearthly light against the dark ground. These are not men but demons, perfect incarnations of all the lusts and passions that ever stained the soul. With Leonardo Bosch never rendered human physiognomies with a more intense ugliness, and it has been thought that he was inspired here by Leonardo‟s drawings of grotesque heads. Karlsruhe Master It is just as likely, however, that he turned to the German artists who for generations had endowed the tormentors of Christ with monstrously deformed features. total Bosch uses a double diagonal composition that intersects at Christ‟s head: arm of cross to bad thief; St. Veronica to good thief. The harsh reds and metallic blues heighten the emotional distress of the expression. With Veronica detail In the maelstrom of evil, the heads of Christ and Veronica appear oddly calm and aloof. Eyes closed, they appear to respond to some inner vision rather than to the tumult around them; Veronica‟s lips even curve in a slight smile. Paradoxically, it is Christ‟s image on her veil that looks out at us beseechingly. The contrast between Christ himself and the two thieves could not be greater. The bad thief, at lower right, snarls back at his taunting captors; the good thief above appears about to collapse in terror at the words of his diabolic confessor. They are carnal men, still immersed in the troubles of this world, but Christ has withdrawn to a higher sphere where his persecutors cannot reach him. In the midst of his suffering he is victorious. And to all who take up his cross and follow him, Christ promises the same victory over the world and the flesh: this is the message that Bosch‟s half-length passion scene presented to his contemporaries. While contemporaries were fascinated by Bosch as an inventor of monsters and chimeras, they were also impressed by the originality of his technique. Karel van Mander, the first historian of Netherlandish painting, wrote in 1604 that Bosch “had established a very rapid, characteristic way of working, setting many of his things down at first, which nevertheless remained very beautiful without alteration.” Detail showing underdrawing The techniques which Bosch used were both traditional and original. Most of his works were executed on panel covered with a thin chalk ground and an oil film laid over to reduce absorbency. However, an innovatory second chalk ground was applied which added brilliance to the paint. The underdrawing was done with a brush and thin black paint. Bosch was not concerned with an objective description of detail, light or perspective, but an expression of form. His style was rapid, sketchy, linear and often limited to single broken lines that search out the main contours of shapes in the painting. In Carrying of the Cross, the paint was still applied in thin flat layers in the traditional manner, but the visibility and expressive purpose of the brushwork, the detached white highlights and the simplification of the modeling were all innovative. Bosch‟s direct and simplified painting technique was perfectly suited to his intention of impressing the viewer with the immediacy of the emotional impact of the scene rather than describing in detail a tangible expression of the objective world. With great economy of means and a free, rapid handling of paint he achieves a richness of expression and a variety of pictorial handwriting that is entirely new in Northern art.
Pages to are hidden for
"Hieronymus Bosch"Please download to view full document