The Garden of Earthly Delights
Time Unbound, my masters thesis explored the different interpretations of Heaven and Hell, eternity and infinity which have been created over the last four centuries. Another work which intrigued me in its highly personal and individual interpretation of Heaven and Hell is Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights.
Here I will describe the first of the three paintings in the triptych: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
The Garden of Earthly Delights is a triptych by Hieronymus Bosch (1450 – 1516).
Two tall rectangular side pieces flank a square centrepiece, each painted in great detail, suggesting a narrative spanning from creation to the end of time itself. The left panel depicts God presenting Eve to Adam in the Garden of Eden. The central panel is a vast panorama of fantastic creatures, exotic oversized fruit, weird stone formations and is peopled with socially flamboyant nudes. The right panel is a hellscape portraying the torturous horrors of damnation.
The Garden of Earthly Delights: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
The Garden of Earthly Delights: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Hieronymus Bosch, (1490 – 1510) Oil on panel
This is the first and left panel in the triptych. It is the simplest in design and the most calm in nature, but it still shows us the complexity of Bosch’s concepts at play.
In the centre, Jesus presents Eve to Adam. Birds, elephants, giraffes and every other kind of animal (some imaginary) populate the garden, which is characterised by green lawns, rolling hills, pools and an open ‘lightness’ symbolising purity and goodness. His figures of Adam and Eve exude both innocence and sexuality.
Even though this is the tamest of Bosch’s three panels it is still riddled with enigmas. A cat runs off with a mouse suggesting that not all is perfect in this garden. The imagery is not restricted to biblical or other traditional textual sources, but utilises Bosch’s imagination, a sign of the Renaissance to come.
In the left panel, it may be that the inclusion of fantastical creatures, the unsavoury-looking crab based tower in the centre and the cat eating the mouse, left of Adam (such an act would not have occurred in the original Garden of Eden, according to Christian theology), suggest that temptation is already present in the garden. It is most likely that the continued horizon line shows that the first two panels are located at some place on the Earth, whereas the third panel is located in another dimension altogether.
While this first painting in the triptych is seemingly located in Earth, its fantastic elements suggest that it is also a kind of idealised version of some of the spiritual elements present in the Garden of Eden.
I will write about the other 2 panels in the coming days. If you have any questions about anything just email me.