A Fascinating Interpretation of the Meaning Behind ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ by Hieronymus Bosch

Art vlogger James Payne of Great Art Explained offered up a fascinating compiled essay that interprets the meaning behind “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, the iconic triptych by Hieronymus Bosch.

Payne explains that Bosch was not trying to express an awareness of sexual freedom or fantasy, nor was it an attack on the Church, rather, the painting was about sin. Payne digs into Bosch’s early life, his membership in religious organizations, and his devotion to the Church. The cathedral in Bosch’s town, surmises Payne, could have been a large inspiration to Bosch’s work.

Bosch’s creatures were certainly inspired by its gothic gargoyles of curious figures animals and monsters elements of gothic architecture. …Another influence would have been the medieval manuscripts where we find drollery or grotesques in the margins. These are small decorative images, which are often humorous or sexual in nature.

It is often said that in this piece of work, Bosch inspired a new genre of art. Payne believes that Bosch was reflecting his interpretation of the world around him.

Hieronymus Bosch is often seen as a precursor to the surrealists who called Bosch the first modern artist. Unlike the surrealists, we cannot view Bosch’s visions as images from his subconscious. As far as Bosch was concerned his images were a realistic portrayal of sin and its consequences. So in that sense, it wasn’t surrealism.
It was realism.

Payne continues his analysis in the same vein but is very careful to note that these are his opinions about the piece.

There are no records to tell us what Bosch or his contemporaries were thinking. There are so many theories out there, some more outlandish than others. I have sifted through most of them, and from a process of elimination, come up with what I think is a pretty good idea. I have also come up with several ideas I haven’t seen before.

via Open Culture

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.