Wednesday, March 23, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Bosch

The Italian Renaissance is honestly one of my favorite art movements, second to Spanish Baroque. But the northern part of Europe also has its great figures - particularly Van Eyck, Vermeer, and Rembrandt. But perhaps one of the most oddly fascinating artists to come out of the Northern Renaissance was Hieronymus Bosch. The first time I saw pictures of Bosch's work, I was a young kid and really into horror movies. So his work was right up my alley. I was both fascinated and freaked out by his paintings.
Bosch was an orthodox Catholic, however his work deviates so far from his religious affiliation that he was thought to be a heretic. It would seem that Bosch must have had some network of acquaintances, or perhaps a faithful following willing to commission him, because there is no way the Church would have been interested in commissioning him for an altarpiece. Though he did many triptych panels, none of them appear to depict religious piety or faithful devotion to God. They appear to be quite the opposite.
His Garden of Earthly Delights is perhaps his most well known piece to depict this very bizarre and nightmarish fantasy. It is one of the most hellish paintings ever created, not because it depicts a feeling of guilt, shame, or torment for sin - That is only one panel of the triptych. Rather, it depicts the epic story of sin from its origin in the Garden of Eden on the left panel, to the wages of sin on the right panel. But it is the main panel in the center that makes the painting so terrifying. It is a world engaged in sin, and depicts how pleasing sin feels, with no fear of damnation. There is no shame in it.
I would argue that Bosch is no heretic, but in fact has perfectly captured the nature of fallen humanity that makes a world of sin appear as a heavenly place. A world where the pleasure of sin is the pleasure of heaven, and earthly delights are both harmless to the body as well as the soul. His bizarre, haunting image of sin is indeed as relevant today as it was in 1500.

Hieronymus Bosch
The Garden of Earthly Delights
oil on panel
center panel 220 x 195 cm; wings 220 x 97 cm.
c. 1500

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