The Garden of Earthly Delights.
The central panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s the Garden of Earthly Delights is the panel of the triptych’s title.
This painting, unlike the first panel, is littered with frenetic activity. The figures are all nudes – some sensually engaged with others. Others simply play, engage in sports or cavort in the garden with companions, animals or imaginary creatures. Are these people ‘shameless’ or merely exhibiting an ‘adolescent sexual curiosity’?
In the centre foreground, one of the largest figures in the painting gives us a clue. The foremost female figure of a group of females is adorned with two cherries – a medieval symbol of pride. To the left a man lustfully drinks from an exotic flagon and behind the group a man and woman lie encased in a giant mussel shell (a symbol of sexuality, carnality and lust). The two concentric circles in the centre (the pool and the circle of figures astride animals) may allude to eternity but more likely allude to the infinite cycle of sin (This theme has been developed in our time by the Chapman brothers – I will talk about their works in coming weeks). Yet strangely, the horizon line of the centre panel continues on from the left panel, suggesting a link between the two. The link would seem to be that both of these scenes occur on our world – in this universe. In contrast the last panel is clearly located in Hell (see in coming days).
Overall the three panels allegorically lead from the first to the second to the third.
The composition of the middle panel is balanced but quite open giving the figures freedom to move and do as they wish. This aligns itself with the idea that despite the fact that God has ordered the world perfectly for our benefit, we are still left free to make our own choices and live in the way we choose to live.
The third panel of the triptych will describe visually what the consequences of making the wrong choices are.