Hieronymus Bosch is probably best known for his triptych painting (triptych=three parts), The Garden of Heavenly Delights. Painted when the artist was between 40 and 60 years of age (between 1490-1510 C.E.), it currently resides at the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
However, this was not the artist’s only rumination on the nature of death, judgement, heaven, hell or sin. While there are some scholars who argue that his master painting on the nature of the human condition was done by one of his pupils – a practice not uncommon in the era – it is certainly in the style of Bosch, if nothing else.
The painting in question is The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things, and this is what it looks like:
So let’s take a closer look, and see what was lurking in the psyche of one Jheronimus van Aken, the Dutch painter known more commonly as Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450 – 1516), as he gave us his view of human depravity…
Asides from the clerics, note the presence of Death in the doorway (left of the dying man) and the angel and demon perched overhead.
Here we see Christ seated on His celestial throne, surrounded by angels and saints.; below, the dead are being resurrected.
This motif, like that of Death, is also present in the contemporaneous art work of the Tarot. The next two images, however, are not:
We all have our kinks; for H. Bosch, Clive Barker’s darkest dreams are mere scribbles; this was a man who envisioned hell and wanted to share that vision with the rest of the world. While The Garden is rightfully regarded as his most robust depiction of a Sado-Masochistic underworld, give the man props: this is Hell the way only Hieronymus could paint it.
Let’s face it; most plays are over by the fourth act. Heaven is a bit anticlimactic, given the sights that have preceded it. Was Hieronymus telling us something?
THE OUTER MANDALA
At the center of it all is what can best be described as a Western Mandala, with parallels to the Tibetan Buddhist Bhava Chakra.
We’ll finish with the inscriptions around the Mandala, which is very much in the pattern of an iris. But before that, let’s look at the seven spoked images at the periphery, which correspond to the seven deadly sins, as understood by Bosch.
Gluttony, or Gula:
Note the plump wee one, who appears genuinely hungry, if not exactly famished.
Sloth, or Acedia
A nun, representing faith, appears to a man who is lazily sleeping in front of his hearth.
Lust, or Luxuria
A nice meal with some clownery thrown in.
Pride, or Superbia:
Note that the woman, whose back is turned to us, is staring into a mirror being held up by a demon…
Wrath, or Ira:
All in a good days work: breaking up peasant brawls.
Envy, or Invidia:
To paraphrase an old Flemish saying, “Two dogs and only one bone, no agreement”:
Greed, or Avaracia:
Note that the judge, centered, is taking a bribe…
THE INNER MANDALA:
Emerging from the tomb is Christ in the center of what appears to be a pupil, a suggestion which is reinforced by the Latin inscription, cave cave d[omi]n[u]s videt (“Beware, Beware, The Lord Sees”).
Finally, we have two passing thoughts from the artist, in the form of Biblical quotes. Specifically, Bosch quotes from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, which is known for being a bit fierce in tone:
Above, we have the following:
“For they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them”
Below the pupil, we read the following:
“O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!” below.
Well, to quote Marshall McLuhan, the message is the media, which in this case, looks like this:
The real take-away? Whatever Hell I end up in, I hope Jheronimus van Aken isn’t in charge of the decor…
That would be a Sin.