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The Garden of Earthly Delights
El Bosco
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El Bosco

S'Hertogenbosch (Holanda), 1450 - S'Hertogenbosch (Holanda), 1516

The Garden of Earthly Delights

1500 - 1505. Grisaille, Oil on oak panel

The origin of this triptych, which is the most famous and singular work ever made by Hieronymus Bosch, is definitively linked to the Nassau family, although it has yet to be determined whether it was commissioned by Engelbert II of Nassau, who died in 1504, or his nephew and heir, Henry III, at whose palatial castle in Brussels it was seen by Antonio de Beatis, secretary to the Cardinal of Aragon, in 1517. When Henry of Nassau died in 1538, it was inherited by his son, René de Chalon. He, in turn, died in 1544, leaving it to his nephew, William of Orange, from whom it was confiscated by the Spanish in 1568. It then became the property of Fernando de Toledo, prior of the Order of Saint John, until he died in 1591. At the auction of the latter’s possessions, it was purchased by Philip II, who sent it to the monastery at El Escorial, where it was listed as a painting with the variety of the World, which they call [the painting] of the Strawberry Tree. It remained there until the Spanish Civil War, entering the Museo del Prado as a loan from Patrimonio Nacional in 1939. While it is neither signed nor documented, no one doubts that this is an original work by Hieronymus Bosch. Both of its possible commissioners, Henry III of Nassau and his uncle, Engelbert II, loved painting and were members of the brotherhood of the Virgin of Hertogenbosch, to which Bosch also belonged. They must both have known the painter and his work, as the members of that brotherhood were obliged to attend certain festivities at Hertogenbosch villa and at the Cathedral of Saint John, where the brotherhood had its chapel, and where there were various paintings by that artist. As to its date, everything suggests that by the end of the 1480s, Bosch’s style was perfectly defined, so he may have painted this work in 1500 or even earlier. A study of the panel itself, which is of Baltic oak, shows that it was cut and dried in 1458, but stored and used quite a few years later because of its exceptional dimensions.

The Garden of Earthly Delights is one of Bosch’s most enigmatic creations, so any effort to discover its meaning requires identifying what is represented on each panel. The closed triptych is a grisaille depiction of the third day of Creation. The open triptych contrasts brilliant colors with the grays of the closed image. Its three panels are distributed in three overlapping planes, thanks to the elevation of the horizon. The left shows the Earthly Paradise, with God in the foreground -identifiable in appearance with Christ- between Adam and Eve and with a dragon tree on his left. That tree from the Canary Islands is associated with the Tree of Life. This, then, is a presentation of Adam and Eve, a highly uncommon subject in representations of Paradise. In the middle ground, we see the Fountain of the Four Rivers of Paradise at the center and the Tree of the Science of Good and Evil at the right, with the serpent coiled around its trunk. The central panel, which lends its name to the triptych, is filled with human figures, animals, plants and fruit. All of the humans are nude except for the couple in the lower right corner, which is generally identified with Adam and Eve after their expulsion from Eden. Man or woman, black or white, the figures generally appear in groups or couples. The animals, whether real or fantastic, are much larger than normal, as are the plants and fruit. Unquestionably, in this panel Bosch presents a world given over to sin, and his depictions of men and women maintaining relations -some, contra natura- have a powerful erotic charge that alludes to this work’s dominant subject: the sin of lechery. In the middle ground, we see a pool full of nude women, around which a group of men ride on different mounts related to all the mortal sins. Above, the painter includes five fantastic constructions on the water. The central one resembles the fountain of the Four Rivers from the Paradise panel, but it is broken as a symbol of its fragility and the ephemeral character of the delights enjoyed by the humans that inhabit this garden. The right panel is the most impressive of any by this painter. It represents Hell, and is sometimes called the Musical Inferno, due to the significant presence of musical instruments used to torture sinners who dedicate their time to secular music. What most captures the attention in this scene is the man-tree figure in the middle ground, associated with the devil due to its light color against a dark background and its large size in relation to the other creatures depicted here. If the Garden of Delights was predominantly dedicated to lechery, Hell depicts the punishment for all of the deadly sins. A fine example is the monster sitting in the right foreground, who devours men and excretes them from his anus. These are the greedy. And gluttony is undoubtedly the subject of the tavern installed in the man-tree’s trunk, where naked figures seated at table wait for demons to serve them toads and other foul creatures. Similarly, freezing water awaits the envious. Nor is there any lack of punishment for the vices censured by that period’s society, such as gambling or, for certain social classes, the clergy, who were than in serious disrepute, as can be seen in the pig with a nun’s coif who embraces a nude man at the panel’s lower right. The Garden of Earthly Delights is a moralizing work with a fair dose of pessimism. In it, Bosch emphasizes the ephemeral nature of the sinful pleasures depicted in the central panel. Sin is the only element linking the three panels. From the moment it appears in Eden with the serpent and Eve -who takes the blame for the expulsion from Eden, in keeping with Medieval misogyny- sin is present in the world, even when it tricks the senses into believing it is an earthy paradise, and it is punished in Hell (Text drawn from Silva, P. in: 100 Obras Maestras del Museo del Prado, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2008, p. 28).

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Technical data

Related artworks

La Creación
Oil on panel, s XV - XVI century
Inventory number
El Bosco
The Garden of Earthly Delights
1500 - 1505
Grisaille; Oil
Oak panel
Height including frame: 205.6 cm.; Width including frame: 386 cm.
Monastery of El Escorial; deposited in the Prado Museum by the Junta Delegada de Incautación, Protección y Conservación del Tesoro Artístico Nacional, 1936; by Decree of 02.03.1943 it was established temporary deposit in the Prado Museum

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Saénz de Miera, Jesús, 'Desengañar al vulgo y más que vulgo' y escribir para 'gente que repara poco en lo que mira' Felipe de Guevara, Fray José de Sigüenza y los Boscos de El Escorial, Madrid Patrimonio Nacional, 2013, pp. 53-63 [56, 58, f.28].

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De Bruyn, Eric, 'Jheronimus Bosch: his patrons and his public. What we know and would like to know' En: Jheronimus Bosch Art Center,, 2014, pp. 14-17 [23-24].

Benge, Glenn F, 'On the closed wings of the Garden of Earthly Delights triptych. New discoveries and the role of memoria' En: Jheronimus Bosch Art Center,, 2014, pp. 46-67.

Falkenburg Reindert, L, 'The Garden of Earthly Delights- viewership, patrons, public' En: Jheronimus Bosch Art Center,, 2014, pp. 118-131.

Pérez de Tudela, Almudena, 'Acceptance of Bosch's works by courtiers during the reing of Philip II: new examples' En: Jheronimus Bosch Art Center,, 2014, pp. 190-205 [193,196].

Peyer, Toos de, 'Grillen and Grylli :The diableries of Jheronimus Bosch' En: Jheronimus Bosch Art Center,, 2014, pp. 210-228.

Pinson, Yona, 'Images of war and violence as Moral lesson in the work of Jheronimus Bosch' En: Jheronimus Bosch Art Center,, 2014, pp. 230-250 [239,241].

Pokorny, Erwin, 'Lodewijk van Gruuthuse, alias Louis de Bruges. A potential patron of Bosch' En: Jheronimus Bosch Art Center,, 2014, pp. 254-261 [255, 259, 261].

Wamel. Marieke van, 'Aficionados y compradores. The sixteeth-century Spanish collectors of paintings by Jheronimus Bosch in the Netherlands' En: Jheronimus Bosch Art Center,, 2014, pp. 320-333 [324].

Withee, Diana K., 'Some additions to Bosch's circle of noble patrons' En: Jheronimus Bosch Art Center,, 2014, pp. 334-363 [350, 353].

Spronk, R., 'Jheronimus Bosch and the van Aken family workshop: towards a reassesment of technique' En: Jheronimus Bosch Art Center,, 2014, pp. 388-399 [391].

Sterckx, Pierre., Jérôme Bosch, ou, La Fourmilière éventrée Lettre vole,, 2014.

Falkenburg, Reindert L., Bosch : Le Jardin des Délices Hazan,, 2015.

Mateo, Isabel, Consideraciones iconográficas sobre el... UNIVERSIDAD DE BARCELONA, pp. 9.

Osten, Gert von der, Painting and sculpture in Germany and the Netherlands: 1500 Penguin Books.

Parrot, L., La Flamme et la Cendre. Jerome Bosch. Separata, Basilea Editions Holbein, pp. 143.

Exhibitions +

Exposición didáctica: el Museo del Prado en San Salvador
San Salvador, El Salvador
23.10.2015 - 29.11.2015

Exposición didáctica: el Museo del Prado en Guatemala
Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala
21.07.2015 - 30.08.2015

Exposición didáctica: el Museo del Prado en Honduras
Tegucigalpa. Honduras.
05.05.2015 - 28.06.2015

Los trípticos cerrados del Museo del Prado. De grisalla a color
05.11.2012 - 26.05.2013

Exposición didáctica: El Museo del Prado en Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo, República Dominicana
07.07.2011 - 11.10.2011

Location +

Room 056A (On Display)

Update date: 06-02-2016 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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