Tribulations of human life
A sphere amid a rough sea
A globe crowned with a cross, leaning towards the right, contains the main theme. The transparent sphere floats on a boat in a rough sea full of savage fish. A group of characters, including a friar, attempt to bring a man into the boat using a ladder; on the opposite side, three angels gaze upon a Latin cross whose arms culminate in circles. In the upper left-hand corner, a sea monster spurts fire out of its mouth, fire which is then transformed into a flock of birds.
Inside the sphere we see the principal scene, which is based on the main panel of the triptych dating from around 1513, known as “The Haywain”. Copies of this triptych are kept in the Museo del Prado and the Royal Monastery of El Escorial. This moralizing painting is inspired by Psalm 14 of the prophet Isaiah, which highlights the ephimeral nature of earthly things: “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades away.” Bosch also used this painting to depict humanity taken by sin, following the Flemish proverb “The world is like a haystack, and each person plucks from it what he can.”
Above the carriage we see monstrous allegorical images of worldly pleasures, which in the original triptych were couples listening to relaxing profane music together with a demon. Various features have been taken from the triptych, including lions, dogs, wolves and fish with human bodies, who symbolise mortal sins winning over humanity. Popes, kings, ecclesiastics and men of humble rank attempt to mount the carriage or obtain a wisp of the cherished hay.
Series Four tapestries after Hieronymus Bosch
Third 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 298 x 368 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. 10004012