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

Triptych of Haywain (outer wings)

Oil on panel, 135 x 90 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

The scene on the outer wings of the Haywain triptych is called Wayfarer or the Path of Life.

The foreground is dominated by an emaciated, shabbily dressed man who is no longer young, carrying a wicker basket strapped to his back; he travels through a menacing landscape. A skull and several bones lie scattered at lower left; an ugly cur snaps at his heels, while the footbridge on which he is about to step appears very fragile indeed. In the background, bandits have robbed another traveller and are binding him to a tree, and peasants dance at the right to the skirl of a bagpipe. A crowd of people gather around an enormous gallows in the distance, not far from a tall pole surmounted by a wheel, used for displaying the bodies of executed criminals.

Bosch's pilgrim makes his way through the treacherous world whose vicissitudes are represented in the landscape. Some of the dangers are physical, such as the robbers or the snarling dog, although the latter may also symbolize detractors and slanderers, whose evil tongues were often compared to barking dogs. The dancing peasants, however, connote a moral danger; like the lovers on top of the haywain, they have succumbed to the music of the flesh. In expressing the spiritual predicament of all mankind, the pilgrim thus resembles Everyman and his Dutch and German counterparts Elckerlijc and Jedermann, whose spiritual pilgrimages form the subjects of contemporary morality plays.