"Hieronymus Bosch, Tempter and Moralist" by Larry Silver

            For example, in the lower right corner, all of the trappings of property and possessions are undercut.  There a pig, the animal of Gluttony still in Pieter Bruegel’s drawing (1557) for the Seven Deadly Sins series of prints, wears a nun’s habit and embraces a nervous and naked man while pressing a quill pen into his hand for signature of a legal document, marked by a pair of bright red seals.  In front of this unequal couple a crouching monster with a bird’s beak crouches within a large knight’s helm and holds the ink and quills.  Behind the figures a human messenger bears additional sealed documents; however, his golden badge is surmounted with a toad (Bruegel’s animal in his 1556 drawing of Avarice, London, British Museum), thus revealing his infernal purposes.  All of these elements point to the wealth and status of the naked man.  Indeed, they are the same worldly possessions to be found, again held by demons, at the foot of the bed in Bosch’s Death of the Usurer (Washington).

            Specific references to money appear in the opposite side of the Hell panel.  One group of individuals at left are surrounded by the instruments of games and gambling: dice, cards, and a strikingly modern-looking backgammon board.  Above the pig-lawyer, amidst images of gluttony by demons and humans alike, another man is shitting coins into another dark cesspool.  The infernal setting distorts music into punishment for earthly pleasures– specifically, these torments take the form of giant instruments, upon which naked individuals are crucified and tortured.  Moreover, these instruments incongruously mix the courtly–or angelic– instruments, the lute and harp, with the vulgar and primitive hurdy-gurdy and bagpipe, closely associated with peasants and beggars.  Indeed, in the Hell panel, the lute and harp are fused and stand right next to the giant hurdy-gurdy with a bagpipe mouthpiece as well as a small drum.  As noted, a giant pink bagpipe appears above them atop the head of the tree-man.

            Further courtly privilege can be seen in the presence of the hunt amidst the gambling items; however, in this inverted world of Hell, derived from the margins of manuscripts of the world-upside-down, the devilish, giant rabbit now returns from the hunt with the hunter himself as his prey on a spit.  To the right of the tree-man a knight in armor is devoured upon a bright pink plate by dragon-like hunting dogs in a pack.  In an era when noblemen were the military leaders, usually mounted on horseback with armor, rival armies of naked men, led by demons, fight in the dark distance behind the tree-man.  

            The other great power of nobles, to make war, manifests itself in the Hell wing in a distant  landscape above the tree-man, “Where ignorant armies clash by night” (Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach”).  The great weapon wielded in attack is an oversized blade, a destructive force that could dismember the fecund plenty of the central panel.  Manned by dark demons, this primitive tank is armored with a pair of ears, revealing both the blind force and lack of sight (in the midst of the giant infernal musical instruments) inherent in human conduct under the influence of the deadly sin of anger.

            The importance of Hell as a culminating destination of the left-to-right movement of the triptych suggests that there is no particular reason to separate the more secular central realm of the work from its more obvious religious themes on the wings.  At the same time, the Garden of Delights Triptych reserves its most explicit use of Old Testament creation themes for the exterior.  There a unified grisaille image across the two panels presents a tiny and distant figure of God the Father, bearded and crowned with a triple tiara like that of the pope, who sits enthroned within the clouds and blesses his Creation with an open book.  Inscribed across the top are Latin words, Ipse dixit et fact su(n)t / Ipse ma(n)davit et creata su(n)t (“For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded and it stood forth”, the text of Psalm 33: 9), rather than the more familiar text of Genesis (1: 9-13). Below a spherical earth appears in its earliest moments, bearing only the oversized pod-like rock growths (seemingly still mixing the vegetable and the mineral) plus some trees like the interior, all framed within boundary waters.   Traditionally, triptych exteriors offer the earliest moment of the religious narrative, most often the Annunciation in advance of several scenes with the Virgin and Child on the interior.  In this case, the Creation scene also comes first in chronological sequence, presumably representing the third day, when the land was separated from water.  This act is followed by a textual affirmation of God’s unequivocally positive assess-ment of his handiwork, “And God saw that it was good.”  This is the moment of origin for “vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to their kind, upon the earth.”  Of course, it is this very variety of trees that will be distinguished within the Eden setting of the interior wing, as fruit, seed, and fecundity of every kind will dominate the central garden panel.


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Garden of Earthly Delights: View of Triptych - Click Here

Garden of Eden: Left Wing - Click Here

Garden of Earthly Delights: Central Panel - Click Here

Hell: Right Wing - Click Here

Haywain - Click Here

Last Judgment - Click Here

Ship of Fools - Click Here

Allegory of Gluttony and Lust - Click Here

Seven Deadly Sins:

Full tabletop - Click Here

Detail - Click Here

Death of the Usurer - Click Here

St. Jerome - Click Here

St. John the Baptist - Click Here

St. Anthony Triptych - Click Here

Nymph of Spring - Click Here





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Per Contra Winter 2006-2007