Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Garden of Earthly Delights

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, central panel
The second of Matthew Collings' excellent series on Renaissance painting, Renaissance Revolutions, has just been broadcast, featuring Hieronymus Bosch's triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights, painted c.1505.

Watch it on BBC iPlayer (UK only)

The Garden of Earthly Delights is a triptych painted by the early Netherlandish master Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450–1516), housed in the Museo del Prado in Madrid since 1939. Dating from between 1490 and 1510, when Bosch was about 40 or 50 years old, it is his best-known and most ambitious work. The masterpiece reveals the artist at the height of his powers; in no other painting does he achieve such complexity of meaning or such vivid imagery.

The Garden of Earthly Delights, left panel
The left panel depicts a scene from the paradise of the Garden of Eden commonly interpreted as the moment when God presents Eve to Adam. The painting shows Adam waking from a deep sleep to find God holding Eve by her wrist and giving the sign of his blessing to their union. God is younger-looking than on the outer panels, blue-eyed and with golden curls. His youthful appearance may be a device by the artist to illustrate the concept of Christ as the incarnation of the Word of God.
The Garden of Earthly Delights, right panel
The right panel illustrates Hell, the setting of a number of Bosch paintings. Bosch depicts a world in which humans have succumbed to the temptations of the devil and reap eternal damnation. The tone of this final panel strikes a harsh contrast to those preceding it. The scene is set at night, and the natural beauty that adorned the earlier panels is noticeably absent. Compared to the warmth of the center panel, the right wing possesses a chilling quality—rendered through cold colourisation and frozen waterways—and presents a tableau that has shifted from the paradise of the center image to a spectacle of cruel torture and retribution. In a single, densely detailed scene, the viewer is made witness to cities on fire in the background; war, torture chambers, infernal taverns, and demons in the midground; and mutated animals feeding on human flesh in the foreground. The nakedness of the human figures has lost all its eroticism, and many now attempt to cover their genitalia and breasts with their hands.
The Garden of Earthly Delights, outer panels
When the triptych's wings are closed, the design of the outer panels becomes visible. Rendered in a green–gray grisaille, the outer panels lack colour, probably because most Netherlandish triptych are thus painted, but possibly indicating that the painting reflects a time before the creation of the sun and moon, which were formed, according to Christian theology, to "give light to the earth".

Hieronymus Bosch at the Web Gallery of Art
Hieronymus Bosch on Wikipedia


  1. Great programme indeed! Even the choice of mainly vintage-rock background music is very apt; I mean, I found the opening of a particular scene in The Garden of.. by Bosch with a blast of 'White Room' by Cream very apt! Really good stuff.

  2. Hello. I have hosted this(and the two other Renaissance Revolution programs) for non UK art lovers:

    Matthew Collings: Renaissance Revolution

    Kind Regards