The Garden of Earthly Delights

Hieronymous Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, circa 1490–1510. Oil on wood, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

Hieronymous Bosch is unique. The combination of his boundless imagination, his skill of hand, and his observant eye make for paintings that have fascinated people for over five hundred years.  This triptych was possibly commissioned by Engelbert II of Nassau and now lives in the Prado Museum in Madrid. The intricacy of Bosch’s figures and his symbolism have kept scholars busy over the centuries. When the triptych is open there is a centerpiece which is flanked by the Garden of Eden on the left and Hell on the right. Like a "Where’s Wally?" of the sixteenth century, these three images are filled with people and animals and imaginary creatures all living and loving and being punished. The ingenious punishments that await sinners in Hell and the fantastical characters in the other panels with their lusty activities begs the question:  is it a religious work at all? Or was it painted for the amusement of his aristocratic patron?

Hieronymous Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, circa 1490–1510. Oil on wood, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain. The right panel depicts the journey to the Abode of the Dead.

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