There was "a musical score discreetly written on the butt of a figure in Garden Of Earthly Delights, the famous painting by Hieronymus Bosch,"
and, thanks to the labor of an Oklahoma Christian University student Amelia Hamrick, it was turned into actual music.. Here's what the "600 year old butt-song from Hell" sounds like:
Bosch painted three large triptychs (the others are The Last Judgment of c. 1482
and The Haywain Triptych of c. 1516)
that can be read from left to right and in which each panel was essential to the meaning of the whole.
When the triptych's wings are closed, the design of the outer panels becomes visible. Rendered in a green–gray grisaille, these panels lack colour, probably because most Netherlandish triptychs were 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". It was common for the outer panels of Netherlandish altarpieces to be in grisaille, such that their blandness highlighted the splendid colour inside.
The outer panels are generally thought to depict the creation of the world, showing greenery beginning to clothe the still-pristine Earth. God, wearing a crown similar to a papal tiara (a common convention in Netherlandish painting), is visible as a tiny figure at the upper left. Bosch shows God as the father sitting with a Bible on his lap, creating the Earth in a passive manner by divine fiat. Above him is inscribed a quote from Psalm 33 reading "Ipse dixit, et facta sunt: ipse mandāvit, et creāta sunt"—For he spake and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast. The Earth is encapsulated in a transparent sphere recalling the traditional depiction of the created world as a crystal sphere held by God or Christ. It hangs suspended in the cosmos, which is shown as an impermeable darkness, whose only other inhabitant is God himself.
Despite the presence of vegetation, the earth does not yet contain human or animal life, indicating that the scene represents the events of the biblical Third Day. Bosch renders the plant life in an unusual fashion, using uniformly gray tints which make it difficult to determine whether the subjects are purely vegetable or perhaps include some mineral formations. Surrounding the interior of the globe is the sea, partially illuminated by beams of light shining through clouds. The exterior wings have a clear position within the sequential narrative of the work as a whole. They show an unpopulated earth composed solely of rock and plants, contrasting sharply with the inner central panel which contains a paradise teeming with lustful humanity.
360 Panorama of Garden of Earthly Delights:
Interactive Garden of Earthly Delights:
Scholars have proposed that Bosch used the outer panels to establish a Biblical setting for the inner elements of the work, and the exterior image is generally interpreted as set in an earlier time than those in the interior. As with Bosch's Haywain triptych, the inner centerpiece is flanked by heavenly and hellish imagery. The scenes depicted in the triptych are thought to follow a chronological order: flowing from left-to-right they represent Eden, the garden of earthly delights, and Hell. God appears as the creator of humanity in the left hand wing, while the consequences of humanity's failure to follow his will are shown in the right.
However, in contrast to Bosch's two other complete triptychs, The Last Judgment (around 1482) and The Haywain (after 1510), God is absent from the central panel. Instead, this panel shows humanity acting with apparent free will as naked men and women engage in various pleasure-seeking activities. According to some interpretations, the right hand panel is believed to show God's penalties in a hellscape.
Art historian Charles de Tolnay believed that, through the seductive gaze of Adam, the left panel already shows God's waning influence upon the newly created earth. This view is reinforced by the rendering of God in the outer panels as a tiny figure in comparison to the immensity of the earth. According to Belting, the three inner panels seek to broadly convey the Old Testament notion that, before the Fall, there was no defined boundary between good and evil; humanity in its innocence was unaware of consequence.
The left panel (sometimes known as the Joining of Adam and Eve) 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 incarnationof the Word of God. God's right hand is raised in blessing, while he holds Eve's wrist with his left. According to the work's most controversial interpreter, the 20th-century folklorist and art historian Wilhelm Fraenger:
Eve avoids Adam's gaze, although, according to art historian Walter S. Gibson, she is shown "seductively presenting her body to Adam". Adam's expression is one of amazement, and Fraenger has identified three elements to his seeming astonishment. Firstly, there is surprise at the presence of the God. Secondly, he is reacting to an awareness that Eve is of the same nature as himself, and has been created from his own body. Finally, from the intensity of Adam's gaze, it can be concluded that he is experiencing sexual arousal and the primal urge to reproduce for the first time.
The surrounding landscape is populated by hut-shaped forms, some of which are made from stone, while others are at least partially organic. Behind Eve rabbits, symbolising fecundity, play in the grass, and a dragon treeopposite is thought to represent eternal life. The background reveals several animals that would have been exotic to contemporaneous Europeans, including a giraffe, an elephant, and a lion that has killed and is about to devour his prey. In the foreground, from a large hole in the ground, emerge birds and winged animals, some of which are realistic, some fantastic. Behind a fish, a person clothed in a short-sleeved hooded jacket and with a duck's beak holds an open book as if reading. To the left of the area a cat holds a small lizard-like creature in its jaws. Belting observes that, despite the fact that the creatures in the foreground are fantastical imaginings, many of the animals in the mid and background are drawn from contemporary travel literature, and here Bosch is appealing to "the knowledge of a humanistic and aristocratic readership". Erhard Reuwich's pictures for Bernhard von Breydenbach's 1486 Pilgrimages to the Holy Land were long thought to be the source for both the elephant and the giraffe, though more recent research indicates the mid-15th-century humanist scholar Cyriac of Ancona's travelogues served as Bosch's exposure to these exotic animals.
According to art historian Virginia Tuttle, the scene is "highly unconventional [and] cannot be identified as any of the events from the Book of Genesis traditionally depicted in Western art". Some of the images contradict the innocence expected in the Garden of Eden. Tuttle and other critics have interpreted the gaze of Adam upon his wife as lustful, and indicative of the Christian belief that humanity was doomed from the beginning. Gibson believes that Adam's facial expression betrays not just surprise but also expectation. According to a belief common in the Middle Ages, before the Fall Adam and Eve would have copulated without lust, solely to reproduce. Many believed that the first sin committed after Eve tasted the forbidden fruit was carnal lust. On a tree to the right a snake curls around a tree trunk, while to its right a mouse creeps; according to Fraenger, both animals are universal phallic symbols.
The skyline of the center panel matches exactly with that of the left wing, while the positioning of its central pool and the lake behind it echoes the lake in the earlier scene. The center image depicts the expansive "garden" landscape which gives the triptych its name. The panel shares a common horizon with the left wing, suggesting a spatial connection between the two scenes. The garden is teeming with male and female nudes, together with a variety of animals, plants and fruit. The setting is not the paradise shown in the left panel, but neither is it based in the terrestrial realm. Fantastic creatures mingle with the real; otherwise ordinary fruits appear engorged to a gigantic size. The figures are engaged in diverse amorous sports and activities, both in couples and in groups. Gibson describes them as behaving "overtly and without shame", while art historian Laurinda Dixon writes that the human figures exhibit "a certain adolescent sexual curiosity".
Many of the numerous human figures revel in an innocent, self-absorbed joy as they engage in a wide range of activities; some appear to enjoy sensory pleasures, others play unselfconsciously in the water, and yet others cavort in meadows with a variety of animals, seemingly at one with nature. In the middle of the background, a large blue globe resembling a fruit pod rises in the middle of a lake. Visible through its circular window is a man holding his right hand close to his partner's genitals, and the bare buttocks of yet another figure hover in the vicinity. According to Fraenger, the eroticism of the center frame could be considered either as an allegory of spiritual transition or a playground of corruption.
On the right-hand side of the foreground stand a group of three fair and one black-skinned figures. The fair-skinned figures, two males and one female, are covered from head to foot in light-brown body hair. Scholars generally agree that these hirsute figures represent wild or primeval humanity but disagree on the symbolism of their inclusion. Art historian Patrik Reuterswärd, for example, posits that they may be seen as "the noble savage" who represents "an imagined alternative to our civilized life", imbuing the panel with "a more clear-cut primitivistic note". Writer Peter Glum, in contrast, sees the figures as intrinsically connected with whoredom and lust.
In a cave to their lower right a male figure points towards a reclining female who is also covered in hair. The pointing man is the only clothed figure in the panel, and as Fraenger observes, "he is clothed with emphatic austerity right up to his throat". In addition, he is one of the few human figures with dark hair. According to Fraenger:
The pointing man has variously been described as either the patron of the work (Fraenger in 1947), as an advocate of Adam denouncing Eve (Dirk Bax in 1956), as Saint John the Baptist in his camel's skin (Isabel Mateo Goméz in 1963), or as a self-portrait. The woman below him lies within a semicylindrical transparent shield, while her mouth is sealed, devices implying that she bears a secret. To their left, a man crowned by leaves lies on top of what appears to be an actual but gigantic strawberry, and is joined by a male and female who contemplate another equally huge strawberry.
There is no perspectival order in the foreground; instead it comprises a series of small motifs wherein proportion and terrestrial logic are abandoned. Bosch presents the viewer with gigantic ducks playing with tiny humans under the cover of oversized fruit; fish walking on land while birds dwell in the water; a passionate couple encased in an amniotic fluid bubble; and a man inside of a red fruit staring at a mouse in a transparent cylinder.
The pools in the fore and background contain bathers of both sexes. In the central circular pool, the sexes are mostly segregated, with several females adorned by peacocks and fruit. Four women carry cherry-like fruits on their heads, perhaps a symbol of pride at the time, as has been deduced from the contemporaneous saying: "Don't eat cherries with great lords — they'll throw the pits in your face." The women are surrounded by a parade of naked men riding horses, donkeys, unicorns, camels and other exotic or fantastic creatures. Several men show acrobatics while riding, apparently acts designed to gain the females' attention, which highlights the attraction felt between the two sexes as groups. The two outer springs also contain both men and women cavorting with abandon. Around them, birds infest the water while winged fish crawl on land. Humans inhabit giant shells. All are surrounded by oversized fruit pods and eggshells, and both humans and animals feast on strawberries and cherries.
The impression of a life lived without consequence, or what art historian Hans Belting describes as "unspoilt and pre-moral existence", is underscored by the absence of children and old people. According to the second and third chapters of Genesis, Adam and Eve's children were born after they were expelled from Eden. This has led some commentators, in particular Belting, to theorise that the panel represents the world if the two had not been driven out "among the thorns and thistles of the world". In Fraenger's view, the scene illustrates "a utopia, a garden of divine delight before the Fall, or — since Bosch could not deny the existence of the dogma of original sin — a millennial condition that would arise if, after expiation of Original Sin, humanity were permitted to return to Paradise and to a state of tranquil harmony embracing all Creation."
In the high distance of the background, above the hybrid stone formations, four groups of people and creatures are seen in flight. On the immediate left a human male rides on a chthonic solar eagle-lion. The human carries a triple-branched tree of life on which perches a bird; according to Fraenger "a symbolic bird of death". Fraenger believes the man is intended to represent a genius, "he is the symbol of the extinction of the duality of the sexes, which are resolved in the ether into their original state of unity". To their right a knight with a dolphin tail sails on a winged fish. The knight's tail curls back to touch the back of his head, which references the common symbol of eternity: the snake biting its own tail. On the immediate right of the panel, a winged youth soars upwards carrying a fish in his hands and a falcon on his back. According to Belting, in these passages Bosch's "imagination triumphs ... the ambivalence of [his] visual syntax exceeds even the enigma of content, opening up that new dimension of freedom by which painting becomes art." Fraenger titled his chapter on the high background "The Ascent to Heaven", and wrote that the airborne figures were likely intended as a link between "what is above" and "what is below", just as the left and right hand panels represent "what was" and "what will be".
The right panel illustrates Hell, the setting of a number of Bosch paintings. Bosch depicts a world in which humans have succumbed to temptations that lead to evil 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.
Large explosions in the background throw light through the city gates and spill into the water in the midground; according to writer Walter S. Gibson, "their fiery reflection turning the water below into blood". The light illuminates a road filled with fleeing figures, while hordes of tormentors prepare to burn a neighbouring village. A short distance away, a rabbit carries an impaled and bleeding corpse, while a group of victims above are thrown into a burning lantern. The foreground is populated by a variety of distressed or tortured figures. Some are shown vomiting or excreting, others are crucified by harp and lute, in an allegory of music, thus sharpening the contrast between pleasure and torture. A choir sings from a score inscribed on a pair of buttocks, part of a group that has been described as the "Musicians' Hell".
The focal point of the scene is the "Tree-Man", whose cavernous torso is supported by what could be contorted arms or rotting tree trunks. His head supports a disk populated by demons and victims parading around a huge set of bagpipes—often used as a dual sexual symbol—reminiscent of human scrotum and penis. The tree-man's torso is formed from a broken eggshell, and the supporting trunk has thorn-like branches which pierce the fragile body. A grey figure in a hood bearing an arrow jammed between his buttocks climbs a ladder into the tree-man's central cavity, where nude men sit in a tavern-like setting. The tree-man gazes outwards beyond the viewer, his conspiratorial expression a mix of wistfulness and resignation. Belting wondered if the tree-man's face is a self-portrait, citing the figure's "expression of irony and the slightly sideways gaze [which would] then constitute the signature of an artist who claimed a bizarre pictorial world for his own personal imagination".
Many elements in the panel incorporate earlier iconographical conventions depicting hell. However, Bosch is innovative in that he describes hell not as a fantastical space, but as a realistic world containing many elements from day-to-day human life.
Animals are shown punishing humans, subjecting them to nightmarish torments that may symbolise the seven deadly sins, matching the torment to the sin. Sitting on an object that may be a toilet or a throne, the panel's centerpiece is a gigantic bird-headed monster feasting on human corpses, which he excretes through a cavity below him, into the transparent chamber pot on which he sits. The monster is sometimes referred to as the "Prince of Hell", a name derived from the cauldron he wears on his head, perhaps representing a debased crown. To his feet a female has her face reflected on the buttocks of a demon. Further to the left, next to a hare-headed demon, a group of naked persons around a toppled gambling table are being massacred with swords and knives. Other brutal violence is shown by a knight torn down and eaten up by a pack of wolves to the right of the tree-man.
During the Middle Ages, sexuality and lust were seen, by some, as evidence of humanity's fall from grace, and the most foul of the seven deadly sins. In the eyes of some viewers, this sin is depicted in the left-hand panel through Adam's, allegedly lustful, gaze towards Eve, and it has been proposed that the center panel was created as a warning to the viewer to avoid a life of sinful pleasure. According to this view, the penalty for such sins is shown in the right panel of the triptych. In the lower right-hand corner, a man is approached by a pig wearing the veil of a nun. The pig is shown trying to seduce the man to sign legal documents. Lust is further said to be symbolised by the gigantic musical instruments and by the choral singers in the left foreground of the panel. Musical instruments often carried erotic connotations in works of art of the period, and lust was referred to in moralising sources as the "music of the flesh". There has also been the view that Bosch's use of music here might be a rebuke against traveling minstrels, often thought of as purveyors of bawdy song and verse.
The origins of Hieronymus Bosch remain a mystery.
Surprisingly little is known about the influential artist. We don’t know his birthdate, level of education, or even who his patrons were. For Renaissance period artists, historians rely heavily on written records, but as none of Bosch’s writings have survived, this puts them at a loss. It's also left his artwork up for lively debate, as art historians try to interpret the symbols in his work.
Bosch didn't date his paintings.
Since little is known about Bosch and he didn’t date his work, art historians have made their best estimate taking into consideration a number of factors, including the age of the wood panels and the inclusion of a pineapple—a New World fruit that means it must be painted after Columbus’s voyage to America. It’s currently thought to have been painted sometime between 1490 and 1510.
It's bigger than you may realize.
When open, the mammoth triptych measures in at a little over 7 feet tall and almost 13 feet long. The center panel alone is 6.5 feet wide.
Oil paint was still a fairly new medium when the work was painted.
Bosch painted The Garden of Earthly Delights using oil paint on oak panels. At the time, oil paint was still less than 100 years old. According to Giorgio Vasari in The Lives of the Artists, Flemish artist Jan Van Eyck created the technique around 1410. Van Eyck wasn't the first to make oil paint, but he did add stabilizers that allowed for better binding with the pigment.
There’s a specific way to read the piece, just like a book.
The triptych was most likely intended to be read from left to right, as each panel’s meaning is interconnected. The outer left panel shows God introducing Eve to Adam and the right panel depicts the torture of damnation. The central, and most well-known, panel is what the piece takes its name after. This garden shows the surreal and bizarre temptations on Earth. Thus, reading from left to right, we can see how man was created, lived, and then failed due to his own behavior.
Close the outer shutters and you are in for a surprise.
When the left and right panels are closed, it’s possible to see the outside of the triptych, which Bosch painted in grisaille. Grisaille is used to describe a painting entirely executed in tones of gray or neutral colors. It was common for Netherlandish altarpieces of the time to have grisaille work on the outer panels as a means to contrast with the colorful interior.
The work shows the world in stunning detail, encased in a clear globe. In the upper left corner, it’s possible to make out the tiny figure of God, who is wearing a Papal tiara. Next to him an inscription from Psalm 33:9 reads “For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.”
The painting has alternatively been interpreted as depicting the Third Day of the Creation, after the creation of plant life, but before humans and animals, or of The Flood due to the globe being half filled with water.
The artist may have painted himself into the artwork.
Although, like many things about Bosch's life and work, it's impossible to verify, some believe that the artist included a self-portrait in the hell panel. The theory was first proposed by art historian Hans Belting in his book on the painting.
The curious figure in question, which is known as “Tree-man” stands as the focal point of the right panel showing the damned. He has a human head, but a cavernous torso where three nude people, sitting on an animal, are at a table.
In the 17th century, it was described as “the strawberry painting.”
The description is due to the prominent strawberry tree in the central panel. In fact, strawberries are scattered throughout the work, making it a recurring theme. In one scene, a couple feeds each other strawberries, in another, people pick apples off a tree while a man offers a woman a strawberry.
As with all aspects of the painting, there are different interpretations about the meaning behind all these strawberries. With their abundance of seeds, are they a reference to promiscuity? Or, do they follow the Catholic tradition of symbolizing rebirth and righteousness?
It's an artwork that has defied interpretation for generations.
So what does it all mean? This is a question that has eluded scholars for centuries, mostly due to the issues surrounding our lack of knowledge about Bosch himself. The great German art historian Erwin Panofsky once wrote, “In spite of all the ingenious, erudite and in part extremely useful research devoted to the task of ‘decoding Jerome Bosch’, I cannot help feeling that the real secret of his magnificent nightmares and daydreams has still to be disclosed. We have bored a few holes through the door of the locked room; but somehow we do not seem to have discovered the key.”
Many read it as a story of man's fall from grace, while others think of it in terms of a utopia. We may never fully know what it means, but searching for symbols in the mysterious work is part of the fun.