The Garden of Earthly Delights

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The Garden of Earthly Delights
This tapestry copies the triptych known today as “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, painted by Hieronymus Bosch between 1500 and 1510. Although it is currently kept in the Museo del Prado, it originates from the Monastery of El Escorial, where it had been a gift from Philip II in 1593. As is normal in Bosch’s triptychs, it represents “Paradise” in one side panel and “Hell” in the other. Hell is shown to be the final consequence awaiting those who lead a licentious life, such as the people depicted in the central panel.

Paradise On the far left, in the part devoted to earthly Paradise, Adam and Eve appear in the foreground, naked, created by God the Father – although with the features of Christ – who appears between them. As is usual in tapestries, we see a mirror image of the original painting. In the middle ground, Bosch includes, in the centre, the source of the four rivers of Paradise, and on the left the dragon tree – a tree which originates from the Canary Islands and which is associated with the Tree of Life. On the right, we see the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, with the serpent coiled around its trunk. Amongst the animals, one of the most notable is the African giraffe.

The Garden of Earthly Delights The central scene depicts the post-lapsarian world, after the first humans were thrown fom Paradise. In this area, a great crowd of naked figures gather together in groups or couples. Interestingly, not all the characters depicted are of white skin. We also see animals, plants and fruits which at times take on fantastical forms. The main sin condemned here is Lust; in the middle ground, Bosch depicts a pond full of naked women, and outside it a group of men who allude to capital sins moves around them, mounted on different animals, some of them fantastical. In the upper part, Bosch has included five fantastical constructions above the water: the central one is similar to the source of the four rivers in the Paradise panel, although now it is cracked. This image reminds us of the fragility and ephimeral nature of the “delights” which the human beings of this garden possess.

Hell The various musical instruments in which the condemned sinners are tortured particularly catch our attention. One interpretation suggests that this is because the condemned devoted their time to profane music, much like the lovers in the upper part of the central panel of the triptych “The Haywain”. In the scene as a whole, the most memorable element is the middle ground with its tree-man figure, both for its bright colour upon a dark background and for its large size in comparison to the rest of the characters. While Lust was dominant in the Garden of Earthly Delights, in Hell the capital sins receive their appropriate punishment. One good example of this is the monster seated in the foregound, who devours men and expels them through his anus (miserliness). And there is undoubtedly a reference to gluttony in the tree-man, who appears to bear the interior of a drinking inn, in which naked characters sitting on the table wait for demons to serve them toads and other foul animals. In the same way the envious are given the punishment of frozen water. There are also punishments for vices which were censured in contemporary society – such as gambling – or for particular social classes – such as the clergy, who were particularly discredited at the time, as we see in the pig who is touching the nun who is embracing a naked man in the bottom corner.

Series Four tapestries after Hieronymus Bosch

Fourth tapestry in the series

Model Inspired by the work of Hieronymus Bosch

Manufacture Unknown workshop, Brussels, before 1560

Fabric Gold, silver, silk and wool

Size 292 x 492 cm

Location Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial

Origin Collection of Caridinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle

On display Halls of Honour

National Heritage Inv. n. 10004013


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