BOSCH, Hieronymus
(b. ca. 1450, 's-Hertogenbosch, d. 1516, 's-Hertogenbosch)

Triptych of Garden of Earthly Delights (right wing)

c. 1500
Oil on panel, 220 x 97 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

The erotic dream of the garden of delights gives way to the nightmare reality of the right wing. It is Bosch's most violent vision of Hell. Buildings do not simply burn, they explode into the murky background, their fiery reflections turning the water below into blood. In the foreground a rabbit carries his bleeding victim on a pole, a motif found elsewhere in Bosch's Hell scenes, but this time the blood spurts forth from the belly as if propelled by gunpowder. The hunted-become-hunter well expresses the chaos of Hell, where the normal relationships of the world are turned upside down. This is even more dramatically conveyed in the innocuous everyday objects which have swollen to monstrous proportions and serve as instruments of torture; they are comparable to the oversized fruits and birds of the central panel. One nude figure is attached by devils to the neck of a lute; another is helplessly entangled in the strings of a harp, while a third soul has been stuffed down the neck of a great horn. On the frozen lake in the middle ground, a man balances uncertainly on an oversized skate, and heads straight for the hole in the ice before him, where a companion already struggles in the freezing water. Somewhat above, a group of victims have been thrust into a burning lantern which will consume them like moths, while on the opposite side, another soul dangles through the handle of a door key. Behind, a huge pair of ears advances like some infernal army tank, immolating its victims by means of a great knife.

The focal point of Hell, occupying a position analogous to that of the Fountain of Life in the Eden wing, is the so-called Tree-Man, whose egg-shaped torso rests on a pair of rotting tree trunks that end in boats for shoes. His hind quarters have fallen away, revealing a hellish tavern scene within, while his head supports a large disc on which devils and their victims promenade around a large bagpipe. The face looks over one shoulder to regard, half wistfully, the dissolution of his own body. The meaning of this enigmatic, even tragic figure has yet to be explained satisfactorily, but Bosch never created another image that more successfully evoked the shifting, insubstantial quality of a dream.

Much more solid, in contrast, is the bird-headed monster at lower right, who gobbles up the damned souls only to defecate them into a transparent chamber pot from which they plunge into a pit below. Other sins can be identified in the area around the pit. The slothful man is visited in his bed by demons, and the glutton is forced to disgorge his food, while the proud lady is compelled to admire her charms reflected in the backside of a devil. The knight brought down by a pack of hounds to the right of the Tree-Man is most likely guilty of the sin of Anger, and perhaps also of Sacrilege, for he clutches a chalice in one mailed fist. The tumultuous group at right suffers for the excesses associated with gambling and taverns.

Lust is punished in the lower right-hand corner, where an amorous sow tries to persuade her companion to sign the legal document in his lap. Perhaps he is a monk, for the sow wears the headdress of a nun. An armoured monster waits near by with an inkwell dangling from his beak. Lust is also the subject of the oversized musical instruments and choral singing in the left foreground. The musical instruments themselves often possessed erotic connotations. The bagpipe also figured as an emblem of the male organ of generation, while to play the lute signified making love.