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

Triptych of Haywain (central panel)

Oil on panel, 135 x 100 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Like the Tabletop of the Seven Deadly Sins, the Haywain shows mankind given over to sin, completely unmindful of God's law and oblivious to the fate which he has prepared for them. In this image, however, Bosch focuses on one of the Deadly Sins: the desire for worldly gain, or Avarice, whose sub-categories are elaborated in the adjacent figure groups very much as they are in the old handbooks on the Virtues and Vices. Avarice leads to discord, violence and even murder, all of which are graphically depicted in the open space before the cart. If the princes and prelates complacently jog along behind the cart, holding themselves aloof from this struggle, it is because the haystack is, so to speak, already in their possession; they are guilty of the sin of Pride. Avarice also leads men to cheat and deceive; the man wearing a tall hat and accompanied by a child at lower left is most likely a false beggar. The quack physician in the centre has set up his table with charts and jars designed to impress his victim; the purse at his side stuffed with hay alludes to his ill-gotten gains. Several nuns at lower right push hay into a large bag, supervised by a seated monk whose gluttonous tendencies are revealed by his ample waist.

The meaning of some of the other groups remains unclear, and we may also wonder at the presence of the lovers on top of the haystack. That they illustrate the sin of Lust we know from the appearance of similar figures in the Prado Tabletop, but it might be argued that the pursuit of the pleasures of the flesh involves the expenditure rather than the accumulation of earthly goods. A class distinction may perhaps be observed between the rustic couple kissing in the bushes and the more elegantly dressed group making music. Their music is certainly that of the flesh, for the devil near by, piping some lascivious tune through his nose, has already lured their attention from the angel praying at the left.