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Hieronymus Bosch

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Gothic and Early Renaissance
 
 
 
Hieronymus Bosch
 
 
 
The Triumph of Sin
 
 

Traditional Last Judgement scenes usually represented the resurrected divided into approximately equal numbers of the saved and the damned. This vision of mankind's prospects at the bar of Divine Justice seems almost frivolously optimistic, however, when compared with the grim interpretation of Doomsday presented in the Vienna triptych. For Bosch, sin and folly are the universal conditions of mankind, Hellfire its common destiny. This deeply pessimistic view of human nature was further developed by Bosch in two other triptychs, the »Haywain« and the »Garden of Earthly Delights«, both probably later in date than the Vienna »Last Judgments but related to it in format.


Triptych of Haywain
1500-02
Oil on panel, 135 x 190 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

We have seen, in many of the subjects so far considered, Bosch's warnings of the wages of sin. His Last Judgment has a particularly gruesome version of the Fall and the subsequent lodgings of the damned in hell. His unique imaginative powers were at their most characteristically effective in such works. But the paintings by Bosch with which most people are familiar are those concerned with the lifetime sins themselves. The two works most representative of this aspect of Bosch's work are The Haywain and The Garden of Earthly Delights. There arc two versions of The Haywain, both in Spain, one in the Escorial Palace and one in the Prado Museum. Although not identical, they are almost so and it is not known which is the original and which the copy; indeed they could both be originals. The subject, a central concern for Bosch, is his belief that the follies and sins of humankind are endemic and that hell is our ultimate destiny.




Triptych of Haywain. Paradise (left wing - detail)
1500-02
Museo del Prado, Madrid


Triptych of Haywain. The Lovers (central panel - detail)
1500-02
Museo del Prado, Madrid

The central feature of the panel is the scene on the top of the haystack. In a grouping reminiscent of paintings of the Holy Family, two pairs of lovers illustrate the ubiquitous sin of lust. As they follow the music, a symbol of self-indulgence, in this idyllic vignette their souls are being contested for by the praying angel on the left and by the devil's seductive music on the right. The devil is an endearing creature, significantly closer to the lovers than the angel, with butterfly wings, circular genitals and a peacock-eye tail. Behind the more elegant seated lovers, a second pair of peasants are kissing in the bushes in a bucolic prelude to a coupling. This little scene is depicted with a sympathy that is at variance with almost all the emotions displayed elsewhere and devoted to the sins of the flock. There the emphasis is on this world rather than the afterlife, although a warning that pain may accompany pleasure is indicated.



Triptych of Haywain (central panel - detail)
1500-02
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Bosch shows as a triumphal progress the passage of a simple hay wagon, seen centrally placed, as it moves through a fantasy landscape towards its ultimate hell. The cart is tow ed by demons and in the following retinue can be seen the 'great and good' of this world, including an emperor (possibly Maximilian I of Germany) and a pope (convincingly identified as Pope Alexander VI, the notorious Roderisfo Borgia). All those with the cart regard it covetously, some snatching handfuls of hay and fighting among themselves. It seems curious that a hay cart should figure so prominently in an important triptych unless one knows that it was a traditional symbol for God's goodness. Being of little worth in itself, it also emphasizes the futility of gathering worldly possessions. A contemporary proverb was 'The world is a haystack; everyone grabs whatever he can.'


Triptych of Haywain (central panel - detail)
1500-02
Museo del Prado, Madrid


Triptych of Haywain (right wing)
1500-02
Museo del Prado, Madrid

The progress of the haywain, conducted by demons in human, animal and fish-like forms, leads inexorably to hell. In this typically Boschian example poor damned, naked souls, the protection of clothing removed, are suffering torments at the hands of vicious demons and mythological animals, such as the antelope with scaly human legs. There is fire and destruction and the gaping maw to the lowest regions of hell in the bottom right corner. Although a dolorous and frightening scene, it is perhaps less effective than other examples and again shows the work of assistants, who, using the same imagery, are not able to create the same power and conviction that Bosch himself achieves. The scene is nevertheless full of symbol and suggestion. Look, for example, at the man lying on the ground with a toad devouring his genitals, suffering the fate of all lechers. Since the toad looks at first sight like a fig leaf, it carries, perhaps, echoes of the Fall of Man.


Triptych of Haywain (right wing)
1500-02
Museo del Prado, Madrid

The »Haywain« triptych exists in two versions, one in the Escorial, the other in the Prado, Madrid. Both are in poor condition and have been heavily restored, and scholars disagree as to which is the original. In each instance, however, the outer wings, to which we will revert, can only have been executed by a rather clumsy workshop hand. As in the Vienna »Last Judgments the left inner wing presents the Creation and Fall of Man (reversing, however, the sequence of episodes from foreground to background) and the expulsion of the Rebel Angels, while the right wing is occupied by a view of Hell. The central panel, however, presents a new image: agreathaywain lumbering across a vast landscape and followed by the great of this world on horseback, including an emperor and a pope (who has been identified as Alexander VI). The lower classes-peasants, burghers, nuns and clergy-snatch tufts of hay from the waggon or fight for it among themselves. In a variation of the theme of the Prado »Tabletop«, this frantic activity is witnessed by Christ who appears, insignificant and resigned, in a golden glory above. Except for an angel praying on top of the haycart, however, no one notices the Divine Presence; and, above all, no one notices that the waggon is being pulled by devils towards Hell and damnation.


Triptych of Haywain. The Wayfarer. The Road of Life (outer wings)
1500-02
Oil on panel, 135 x 90 cm
Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

The symbol of the pilgrim on the precarious, threatening road of life was common in medieval painting. The two outer wings of The Haywain depict a poor, fearful and emaciated middle-aged peasant, with his possessions strapped to his back, glancing behind him at a scene of robbery while fending off a vicious dog.
He is about to step on a bridge that is too thin to carry even his weight - a reminder that the next step in life may bring disaster or death. On the right of the painting carefree peasants dance to a bagpiper seated under a tree. In the background a crowd is gathered for a hanging while nearby stands a tall pole surmounted by a wheel on which the bodies of executed criminals were displayed. Altogether it is a scene of threat and fear. Although the work is badly painted and probably all by assistants, the design is certainly by Bosch, who used it in a later circular panel.

 
This curious vehicle may remind us of the ship which Brant employs in his »Ship of Fools«, but Bosch's waggonload of hay is not simply an expeditious means of getting to Hell; it illustrates, in fact, one specific aspect of human frailty of which hay was a traditional symbol. A Netherlandish song of about 1470 tells us that God has heaped up good things on the earth like a stack of hay for the benefit of all men, but that each man wants to keep it all to himself. But since hay is of little value, it also symbolizes the worthlessness of all worldly gain. This is certainly the meaning of the allegorical haycarts which appeared in several Flemish engravings after 1550. A haycart also formed part of a religious procession at Antwerp in 1563; according to a contemporary description, it was ridden by a devil named Deceitful, and followed by all sorts of men plucking the hay, so as to show that worldly possessions are »al hoy« (all hay). »ln the end it is >al hoy<«, echoes a song of the same period.

All these haycarts appeared some years after Bosch's death, most probably inspired by his »Haywain« triptych, but it is reasonable to assume that the latter work possessed the same significance. The fact that the haycart of 1563 was a carnival waggon has led some scholars to suggest that Bosch, in turn, was influenced by similar floats. However this may be, the general arrangement of his haywain with its many attendants recalls the allegorical processions, especially the »Triumphs« of Francesco Petrarch, which appear in so many tapestries and engravings of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Bosch may have had such examples in mind when he composed his own Triumph of Sin.
Like the »Tabletop of the Seven Deadly Sins«, thus, the »Haywain« shows mankind given over to sin, completely unmindful of God's law and oblivious to the fate which he has prepared for them. In this image, however, Bosch focuses on one of the Deadly Sins: the desire for worldly gain, or Avarice, whose sub-categories are elaborated in the adjacent figure groups very much as they are in the old handbooks on the Virtues and Vices. As we are warned in the »King'sDream«, written by Laurent Gallus in 1279, Avarice leads to discord, violence and even murder, all of which are graphically depicted in the open space before the cart. If the princes and prelates complacently jog along behind the cart, holding themselves aloof from this struggle, it is because the haystack is, so to speak, already in their possession; they are guilty of the sin of Pride. Avarice also leads men to cheat and deceive; the man wearing a tall hat and accompanied by a child at lower left is most likely a false beggar, like the ones patronized by Old Avarice in Deguilleville's »Pilgrimage of the Life of Man«. The quack physician in the centre has set up his table with charts und jars designed to impress his victim; the purse at his side stuffed with hay alludes to his ill-gotten gains. Several nuns at lower right push hay into a large bag, supervised by a seated monk whose gluttonous tendencies are revealed by his ample waist.

The meaning of some of the other groups remains unclear, and we may also wonder at the presence of the lovers on top of the haystack. That they illustrate the sin of Lust we know from the appearance of similar figures in the Prado »Tabletop«, but it might be argued that the pursuit of the pleasures of the flesh involves the expenditure rather than the accumulation of earthly goods. A class distinction may perhaps be observed between the rustic couple kissing in the bushes and the more elegantly dressed group making music. Their music is certainly that of the flesh, for the devil near by, piping some lascivious tune through his nose, has already lured their attention from the angel praying at the left.

Such details serve to reinforce Bosch's basic theme of the triumph of Avarice; and the image of the haywain itself has yet another metaphorical function. In the sixteenth century, hay also possessed connotations of falsehood and deceit, and to »drive the haywain« with someone was to mock or cheat him. When we read that the demon who rode on the haywain of 1563 was called »Deceitful«, and note that the musical devil on top of the Prado haywain is blue, the traditional colour of deceit, the full implications of Bosch's load of hay become clear. Not only have wordly goods and honours no intrinsic value, they are also employed by Satan and his army as bait to lure men to destruction.
In composition, the Hellscape of the right wing of the »Haywain« stands between the discursive panorama of the Vienna »Last Judgment« and the monumental simplicity of the »Hell« panel at Venice. Reminiscent of the latter work, too, are the tall blasted ruin silhouetted against the flaming background and the damned souls struggling helplessly in the lake below, although the foreground is dominated by a new motif, a circular tower whose process of construction is shown in circumstantial detail. One demon climbs a ladder with fresh mortar for the devil masons on the scaffolding above, while a black-skinned companion raises a floor beam with a hoist. The significance of this feverish activity is not clear. Towers abound in medieval descriptions of Hell, but the devils are usually too busy ministering to their victims to engage in such architectural enterprises. However, St Gregory reports a vision of Heaven in which houses were constructed of golden bricks, each brick representing an »almsdeed« or charitable act by someone on earth, and were intended to receive the souls of the good. Perhaps Bosch has represented the hellish counterpart of these heavenly mansions, in which avarice, and not almsdeed, supplies the stones. In his account of the »Haywain« triptych in 1605, Siguenza expresses a similar thought when he describes the tower as being built to accommodate all those entering Hell; the stones are the »souls of the wretched damned«. On the other hand, Bosch's tower may be a parody of the infamous Tower of Babel with which men sought to storm the gates of Heaven itself. In this case it would symbolize Pride, the sin which caused the fall of the Rebel Angels and which is exemplified by the worldly prince and prelate and their retinue behind the haywain.

Other punishments can calso be related to the sins illustrated in the central panel. On the bridge leading to the infernal tower, a squad of devils torments a poor naked soul astride a cow. This hapless figure was probably inspired by the vision of Tundale, who, during his tour of Hell, was forced to lead a cow across a narrow bridge as punishment for stealing one of his neighbour's cattle. On the bridge he encountered those who had robbed churches and committed other acts of sacrilege, a detail which may have suggested the eucharistic chalice clutched by Bosch's figure. The man on the ground with a toad gnawing his genitals suffers the fate of lechers, while greed is appropriately punished by a fish-like monster in the foreground. Above him, a hunterdevil sounds his horn from the left, his human quarry gutted like a rabbit and dangling upside down from a pole. Several dogs rush ahead of their master to bring down a couple beneath the bridge.

Complex though its ramifications may be, the basic meaning of the »Haywain« is relatively simple. Even if we know nothing about the metaphorical use of hay in the sixteenth century, we can easily grasp the fact that Bosch is commenting on an unpleasant aspect of human nature. But this is not true of the triptych known variously as the »Garden of Earthly Delights« or the »Earthly Paradise«.


Triptych of Garden of Earthly Delights
c. 1500
Oil on panel, central panel: 220 x 195 cm, wings: 220 x 97 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

 

 

Heaven and Hell

The spectacle depicted here is a devastating one: devils and demons, spectres and other monstrous figures attack the poor sinners to rack, torture and torment them in indescribably grotesque ways. The instruments of torture that feature so prominently in this hellish scenario, such as the bell and gigantic musical instruments, are wholly unconventional. Pathetic sinners are woven alive into the strings of an enormous harp, shut into a drum or shackled to a huge lute to endure the beat of a diabolical symphony, a world-class apocalyptic martyrdom. Despite the surreal world of madness and perversion that unfolds like a nightmare in this painting, it is undeniably a masterpiece of consummate elegance and perfection.
Never before or since has a painter succeeded in creating a more symbolically perverse orgy of torture than Hieronymus Bosch. There could be no crasser contrast to the works of the Italian Renaissance than this. The right panel of his triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights, considered to be the Netherlandish painters masterpiece, reveals nothing of human beauty. It intricately embroiders the hellish sufferings to which man in his imperfection is condemned. Bosch's imagination is inventive on an unprecedented and unparalleled scale. With ghoulish wit, he delights in staging this inferno teeming with monstrous atrocities. As overwhelmingly bizarre as all this may seem, Bosch's imagination was, in fact, rooted in the reality of his times. People groaned under the weight of increasing taxation. Crime and corruption were rampant. Bishops, cardinals and Popes kept mistresses, fathered children and even showed them to the public at Mass. Of monks it was said then that they spent the day indulging in "flatulent discourse, dice games and gluttony". It was commonplace that their "corruption stank to high heaven". Bosch's contemporaries may indeed have recalled the words of the prophet Isaiah (5: 11—12, 14): "Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them! And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasrs: but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands.... Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it." However, the man who unleashed such unmitigated atrocities onto the canvas did not fear Divine Judgement, at least not m the eyes of the Spanish satirist Quevedo y Yillegas (d. 1645), who had the painter engage in a fictive dialogue m which he claimed not to believe in the devil or in hell.


Triptych of Garden of Earthly Delights (central panel)
c. 1500
Museo del Prado, Madrid

In a park-like landscape under a clear sky, surrounded by or inhabiting curious plant forms, the pale, naked human forms engage in the joyous battle of the sexes in a dreamlike contemplation of love, sexually enticing gestures or postures and in explicitly sexual embrace. Accompanying them are strange fruits, spherical or ovoid shapes and, in the distance, five structures, strange accumulations of forms, on or in which further sexual acrobatic exercises can be seen. In the centre a circular pool in which a group of naked females disport themselves is being circled by male riders on a variety of beasts. A number of giant birds, including the warning owl, and other curious animals are also part of the scene. A fish, a symbol of lewdness, is in the foreground. The curious overall effect of this pastoral orgy is of peaceful innocence and a real delight. The warning scene on the right wing makes it all the more potent.


Triptych of Garden of Earthly Delights (central panel - detail)
c. 1500
Museo del Prado, Madrid

 
 
 
 



Triptych of Garden of Earthly Delights (central panel - detail)
c. 1500
Museo del Prado, Madrid


Triptych of Garden of Earthly Delights.
Horses and Riders (central panel - detail)
c. 1500
Museo del Prado, Madrid

In the circular pool in the centre of the painting women are swimming, standing or disporting themselves. There are no men. Around the pool men riding horses and other fabulous animals, such as the gryphon-like creature seen in the centre here, form a continuous parade. This is the beginning of lust, the start of the Fall, and Bosch is noting the nature of sexual attraction. In this detail the men are all alert and self-conscious. At the top a woman is peering out of the pool with the temptress Eve's symbol of the apple, the Forbidden Fruit, perched on her head. Elsewhere other women arc preparing to leave the pool to come to the men rather than the men to them. It was the medieval belief that women were the eager receptive vessels of lust and the original cause of men's fall from grace. It is Bosch's most positive statement of the pleasure and pains of sexual attraction.


Triptych of Garden of Earthly Delights (central panel - detail)
c. 1500
Museo del Prado, Madrid

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 at 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 centre and several figures soar about in the sky on delicate wings. This triptych is better preserved than most of Bosch's large altarpieces, and the carefree mood of the central panel is heightened by the clear and even lighting, the absence of shadows, and the bright, high-keyed colours. 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 coloured fountains and pavilions of the background lake, a soft line of hills melts into the distance. The diminutive figures and the large, fanciful vegetable forms seem as harmless as the medieval ornament which undoubtedly inspired them, and when we stand before this picture, it is difficult not to agree with Fraenger'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 described by Hesiod, when men and beasts dwelt in peace together and the earth yielded her fruit abundantly and without effort. Or to put it in more contemporary terms, Bosch's garden appears to be a sort of universal love-in.

Nevertheless, it must be denied that this crowd of naked lovers was intended as an apotheosis of innocent sexuality. The sexual act, which the twentieth century has learned to accept as a normal part of the human condition, was most 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. That Bosch and his patrons shared fully in this view we know, of course, from the contexts in which lovers appear in his other works, and is further confirmed by the fact that his garden, like the haywain, is situated between Eden and Hell, the origin of sin and its punishment. Hence, just as the »Haywain« depicts worldly gain or Avarice, so the »Garden of Earthly Delights« depicts the sensual life, more specifically the deadly sin of Lust.

Various aspects of this sin are acted out in a forthright fashion, by the couple enclosed in a bubble at the lower left, for example, or the pair near by concealed in a mussel shell; other figures seem to display perverted acts of love, such as the man plunged head first into the water and shielding his privy parts with his hands or, at lower right, the youth who thrusts some flowers into the rectum of his companion. Along with these fairly obvious representations, however, the carnal life is also alluded to in metaphorical or symbolic terms. The strawberries which figure so prominently in the landscape, for instance, probably symbolize the unsubstantial quality of fleshly pleasure; this was the conclusion of Siguenza who speaks of the »vanity and glory and transient taste of strawberries or the strawberry plant [whose] fragrance one can hardly smell when it passes«. The strawberry is thus analogous to the hay in the »Haywain«.

The »Garden of Earthly Delights« triptych has been carefully studied by Dirk Bax*, whose extensive knowledge of older Dutch literature has led him to identify many of the forms in the central panel - fruit, animals, the exotic mineral structures in the background - as erotic symbols inspired by the popular songs, sayings and slang expressions of Bosch's time. For example, many of the fruits nibbled and held by the lovers in the garden serve as metaphors of the sexual organs; the fish which appear twice in the foreground occur as phallic symbols in Old Netherlandish proverbs. The group of youths and maidens picking fruit in the right middleground also possesses erotic connotations: »to pluck fruit« (or flowers) was a euphemism for the sexual act. Most interesting, perhaps, are the large, hollow fruits and fruit peelings into which some of the figures have crept. Bax sees them as a play on the medieval Dutch word »schel« or »schil«, which signified both the »rind« of a fruit and »quarrel« or »controversy«. Thus, to be in a »schel« was to engage in a struggle with an opponent, and this included the more pleasant strife of love. Moreover, the empty rind itself signified worthlessness. Bosch could have chosen no more appropriate a symbol for sin, for it was, after all, a fruit that brought about the fall of Adam.

In the first place, it is significant that Bosch conceived his image of carnal delight as a great park or garden-like landscape. The garden had functioned for centuries as a setting for lovers and love-making. The most famous medieval love garden was the one described in the »Romance of the Rose«, a long allegorical poem of the thirteenth century; translated into many languages including Dutch, it also inspired numerous imitations in later literature and art. These love gardens invariably contain beautiful flowers, sweetly singing birds and a fountain in the centre around which the lovers gather to stroll or sing, as can be seen in many tapestries and engravings of Bosch's day. That Bosch was familiar with this tradition cannot be doubted. An abbreviated love garden appears in an engraving by his associate Alart du Hameel, and Bosch himself employed similar elements in one of his earlier images of Lust, on the Prado »Tabletop«. In the »Garden of Earthly Delights«, of course, he incorporated much more of its traditional iconography, including the fountain and pavilions which dominate the lake in the background. These curiously wrought, glittering forms are, in fact, hardly more fantastic than the fountains and buildings, constructed of gold, coral, crystal and other precious materials, which are described in many literary »Gardens of Love«.
Although the »Garden of Earthly Delights« thus owes much to the conventional love gardens, the inhabitants of the latter generally behave much more discreetly; very seldom do they frisk about naked or make love in the water. Nevertheless, the association of love and love-making with water was firmly established by Bosch's day. In scenes of the »labours of the months«, May, the time of love, was illustrated by lovers embracing in a tub of water. Even representations of the Fountain (or Pool) of Youth frequently received an erotic twist. While Bosch does not, strictly speaking, show a Fountain of Youth, as no one is being rejuvenated, this or similar prints may have inspired the outdoor water sports of the »Garden of Earthly Delights«.

To the Garden of Love and the Bath of Venus can be added a third major theme in the »Garden of Earthly Delights«. The background lake is given over to mixed bathing, but in the middle section the sexes are carefully segregated. The circular pool is occupied only by women, while the men ride around it on the backs of animals of different species. The antics of the acrobatic riders, one somersaulting on the back of his mount, suggest that they are excited by the presence of the women, one of whom is already climbing out of the water. By this means, of course, Bosch shows the sexual attraction between men and women, and it is not without significance that the pool and cavalcade occupy the centre of the garden, as the source and initial stage of the activity elsewhere. To the medieval moralists, who were not very chivalrous about such matters, it was woman who took the initiative in leading man into sin and lechery, following the precedent set by Eve. The power of woman was often represented by placing her within a circle of male admirers. But on Bosch's painting men are riding instead of dancing. Animals traditionally symbolized the lower or animal appetites of mankind and personifications of the Sins were often depicted on the backs of various beasts: the act of riding, finally, was commonly employed as a metaphor for the sexual act.

For his image of sensual pleasure, Bosch thus fused together several erotic themes of the Middle Ages within the framework of the Garden of Love, just as Brant employed the ship to unify his diatribes on human folly. Bosch was not the only artist, however, to use the traditional love garden to symbolize Lust. In a manuscript of St Augustine's »City of God«, the saint's condemnation of the lascivious customs of ancient Rome was often illustrated with pictures of nudes dancing in a garden.

In the final analysis, the meaning of the »Garden of Earthly Delights« is not inconsistent with Bosch's other moralizing subjects. Like the »Ship of Fools«, the »Death of the Miser« and the »Haywain«, it, too, provides a mirror wherein we may see reflected the folly of man. Nevertheless, we may still find it difficult to accept the fact that these carefree lovers are guilty of the deadly sin of Lust. Like Fraenger, we may object that Bosch can hardly have intended to condemn what he painted with such visually enchanting forms and colours. Medieval man, however, was more suspicious of material beauty. He was taught that sin presents itself under the most alluring aspects, and that behind physical loveliness and agreeable sensations often lurked death and damnation. The visible world, in short, was not unlike those little ivory carvings popular in Bosch's day which display a pair of embracing lovers or a voluptuous female nude, but when turned around reveal a rotting corpse. What Bosch shows us, in other words, is a false paradise whose transient beauty leads men to ruin and damnation, a motif common in medieval literature. We encounter it, for example, in the legend of theVenusberg, the underground kindgdom of love where Tannhauser was detained at the peril of his soul. In the second part added by Jean de Meun to the »Romance of the Rose«, the garden of the rose is explicitly and unfavourably compared with the true garden of Heaven. The garden of Heaven is everlasting, but in the garden of the lovers, the »dances will reach their end and dancers fail«; everything will crumble and decay, for Death lies in wait for all. A similar thought was frequently expressed in sixteenth-century representations of pleasant gardens where lovers enjoy themselves, unaware that Death stalks them from behind.

To return to Bosch's version of this venerable theme, Bax has plausibly suggested that the hairy couple visible in the mouth of the cave in the lower right-hand corner of the garden represent Adam and Eveaftertheir expulsion from Eden, when, according to apocryphal accounts, they took refuge in a cave and dressed in animal skins. The head of the man behind Adam is that of Noah, who re-founded the human race after the Flood. Indeed, the full implications of the »Garden of Earthly Delights« are understood only when we turn to the Garden of Eden and the other scenes of the triptych.

 
 
 

 
 
 
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