Saturday, January 27, 2007

Bosch, The Garden of Eden


There are many paintings of Eden from art history, but one of the most intriguing for me is The Earthly Paradise, painted by the Netherlandish artist Hieronymus Bosch. It is part of his The Garden of Earthly Delights triptych (ca .1503-4; Prado, Madrid). The intricacy of the work reminds of Pieter Bruegel's art, of which I am also a great fan. But Bosch's painting is more visionary, unearthly, and fascinatingly disturbing. The images are archetypal and alchemical, which is very appropriate for the Adam and Eve story. Carl Jung viewed Bosch's startling symbolism as ultimately deriving from the collective unconscious. The tryptich is now displayed in the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, Spain.

Bosch detail

Toward the center of the panel is the fountain of life in the form of a Gothic monument. The fountain itself is not strictly biblical, but it does fit with the biblical and ancient Near Eastern image of waters of life flowing down to earth from Eden. To the far right of the fountain you can see the Tree of Knowledge, with the serpent coiled around it. The center panel of the tryptich (not shown) depicts the fallen world, and the tree is positioned so as to lead the eyes into that panel.

Bosch detail

In the bottom third of the image, God (in the form of Jesus, the creative Word) introduces newly formed Eve to Adam. Behind Adam a fantastic cactus symbolizes the Tree of Life. But even at this tender moment of introduction, there are clear signs that all is not well. Elements at the bottom of the painting, especially the mouse in the cat's mouth, herald the imminent arrival of violence and sin into the world.



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