Hieronymus van Aken (Bosch)
If Renaissance painting tends to bore you to death with one classical (usually male) figure after another arrayed in all their naked, Greek splendour, then perhaps you need to take time out and pay a visit to the work of Hieronymus Bosch. Specifically, take a look at his most famous painting, Garden of Earthly Delights. You'll still see lots of naked splendour, but Greek it is not! Your first reaction might well be, "What planet did this guy come from?"
The Dutch painter, Hieronymous Bosch, was born in 1450 as the Renaissance in Italy was starting to flower. The Garden was painted during the period of time from 1505-1510, making it an almost an exact contemporary of works like Michelangelo's Sistine ceiling and Raphael's School of Athens, both in the Vatican. Even though the painting has a deeply moralistic theme, Vatican art it ain't. Actually, it's not one painting, but three, a triptych, nearly seven feet tall and stretching some twelve feet in length. And with its outlandish depictions of sin and the afterlife, it is one of the oddest, most outlandish paintings ever produced.
The left panel is a fairly straightforward Biblical (though somewhat fantastical) rendition of God, Adam, and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The massive centre panel, entitled The world before the Flood, however literally defies description, peopled with dozens of nude figures engaged in every form of debauchery known to man amidst what can only be called a fairyland of vice. And even more disturbing, the right panel is entitled simply, Hell. It's Salvador Dali run amok, Steven King on an upset stomach, seasoned with a generous portion of Adolph Hitler at his best (worst?). One has to wonder if Michelangelo was influenced by Bosch in his painting of The Last Judgement. Look at them both side by side. You be the judge.
contributed by Lane, Jim
16 January 1998