Hieronymus Bosch: Garden of Earthly Delights (book)

By Paola Westbeek

Medieval artist Jheronimus (sometimes spelled as ‘Hieronymus’) Bosch (1450-1516) is widely known for his richly imaginative and bizarre scenes full of devilish creatures. Even to this day, his paintings and life are still the cause of much debate, speculation, and most of all, admiration.

Anyone eager to discover more about the artist and some of his most signifi cant masterpieces has a wealth of books to choose from, but perhaps one of the most highly recommended is Hans Belting’s Hieronymus Bosch: Garden of Earthly Delights, which delves into his best known masterpiece. When looking at The Garden of Earthly Delights, one of the fi rst things to capture the attention is the artist’s use of deep blues, cool greens and pastel pinks. These harmonious tones create purity and unity in a fantastical triptych that is regarded as one of the greatest works in the history of art. On the left panel, we see Paradise represented in a peaceful garden where God the Father gives Adam and Eve his blessing to ‘go forth and multiply’. The middle, and perhaps most impressive panel, is full of nude humans, animals of unnatural proportions and mystical creatures all engaging in carnal pleasures (eating, sexual acts) and strange activities.

The right wing depicts the end of their carefree and colorful existence – this is Hell, a place where instruments of sin have now become instruments of torture. Though often interpreted as a heretical masterpiece, in this fascinating book, renowned art historian Hans Belting presents us with a new and radical reinterpretation of the painting. For Belting, the work is not apocalyptical but Utopian. It shows us a world untouched by the fall of mankind. Each panel is extensively discussed with attention to even the smallest of details in full-colour close-ups that take the viewer right into the painting. The book also includes complementary chapters on Bosch in his native ‘s-Hertogenbosch as well as Biblical and literary discussions pertaining to the painting. Because the book is accessible written, it will appeal to those who know little about art or have yet to become acquainted with the style and subject matter of one of the most exceptional artists of the Middle Ages, one who does not cease to amaze, even fi ve hundred years after his death. Prestel, 2016