Hieronymus BOSCH


1450-1516


 

 
 


 
   
Renaissance Art Map
 
   
   
Hieronymus Bosch  Between Heaven And Hell
 
 
    Introduction
 
   
    Life and Milieu
 
   
    Artistic Origins and Early Biblical Scenes
 
   
    The Mirror of Man
 
   
    The Last Judgement
 
   
    The Triumph of Sin
 
   
    The Pilgrimage of Life
 
   
    The Imitation of Christ
 
   
    The Triumph of the Saint    
         

 

 

 
 

 

 
Between Heaven And Hell
      

 
 
 
 


The Triumph of Sin
 

 

 

 

Traditional Last Judgement scenes usually represented the resurrected divided into approximately equal numbers of the saved and the damned. This vision of mankind's prospects at the bar of Divine Justice seems almost frivolously optimistic, however, when compared with the grim interpretation of Doomsday presented in the Vienna triptych. For Bosch, sin and folly are the universal conditions of mankind, Hellfire its common destiny. This deeply pessimistic view of human nature was further developed by Bosch in two other triptychs, the »Haywain« and the »Garden of Earthly Delights«, both probably later in date than the Vienna »Last Judgments but related to it in format.

 

        


Triptych of Haywain
1500-02
Oil on panel, 135 x 190 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

 

 

We have seen, in many of the subjects so far considered, Bosch's warnings of the wages of sin. His Last Judgment has a particularly gruesome version of the Fall and the subsequent lodgings of the damned in hell. His unique imaginative powers were at their most characteristically effective in such works. But the paintings by Bosch with which most people are familiar are those concerned with the lifetime sins themselves. The two works most representative of this aspect of Bosch's work are The Haywain and The Garden of Earthly Delights. There arc two versions of The Haywain, both in Spain, one in the Escorial Palace and one in the Prado Museum. Although not identical, they are almost so and it is not known which is the original and which the copy; indeed they could both be originals. The subject, a central concern for Bosch, is his belief that the follies and sins of humankind are endemic and that hell is our ultimate destiny.

 

 

 


Triptych of Haywain. Paradise (left wing - detail)
1500-02
Museo del Prado, Madrid
 

 

 


Triptych of Haywain. The Lovers (central panel - detail)
1500-02
Museo del Prado, Madrid

 

 

The central feature of the panel is the scene on the top of the haystack. In a grouping reminiscent of paintings of the Holy Family, two pairs of lovers illustrate the ubiquitous sin of lust. As they follow the music, a symbol of self-indulgence, in this idyllic vignette their souls are being contested for by the praying angel on the left and by the devil's seductive music on the right. The devil is an endearing creature, significantly closer to the lovers than the angel, with butterfly wings, circular genitals and a peacock-eye tail. Behind the more elegant seated lovers, a second pair of peasants are kissing in the bushes in a bucolic prelude to a coupling. This little scene is depicted with a sympathy that is at variance with almost all the emotions displayed elsewhere and devoted to the sins of the flock. There the emphasis is on this world rather than the afterlife, although a warning that pain may accompany pleasure is indicated.

 

 


Triptych of Haywain (central panel - detail)
1500-02
Museo del Prado, Madrid

 

Bosch shows as a triumphal progress the passage of a simple hay wagon, seen centrally placed, as it moves through a fantasy landscape towards its ultimate hell. The cart is tow ed by demons and in the following retinue can be seen the 'great and good' of this world, including an emperor (possibly Maximilian I of Germany) and a pope (convincingly identified as Pope Alexander VI, the notorious Roderisfo Borgia). All those with the cart regard it covetously, some snatching handfuls of hay and fighting among themselves. It seems curious that a hay cart should figure so prominently in an important triptych unless one knows that it was a traditional symbol for God's goodness. Being of little worth in itself, it also emphasizes the futility of gathering worldly possessions. A contemporary proverb was 'The world is a haystack; everyone grabs whatever he can.'

 


Triptych of Haywain (central panel - detail)
1500-02
Museo del Prado, Madrid

 

 

 


Triptych of Haywain (right wing)
1500-02
Museo del Prado, Madrid

 

 

The progress of the haywain, conducted by demons in human, animal and fish-like forms, leads inexorably to hell. In this typically Boschian example poor damned, naked souls, the protection of clothing removed, are suffering torments at the hands of vicious demons and mythological animals, such as the antelope with scaly human legs. There is fire and destruction and the gaping maw to the lowest regions of hell in the bottom right corner. Although a dolorous and frightening scene, it is perhaps less effective than other examples and again shows the work of assistants, who, using the same imagery, are not able to create the same power and conviction that Bosch himself achieves. The scene is nevertheless full of symbol and suggestion. Look, for example, at the man lying on the ground with a toad devouring his genitals, suffering the fate of all lechers. Since the toad looks at first sight like a fig leaf, it carries, perhaps, echoes of the Fall of Man.

 

 

 


Triptych of Haywain (right wing)
1500-02
Museo del Prado, Madrid

 

 

 

The »Haywain« triptych exists in two versions, one in the Escorial, the other in the Prado, Madrid. Both are in poor condition and have been heavily restored, and scholars disagree as to which is the original. In each instance, however, the outer wings, to which we will revert, can only have been executed by a rather clumsy workshop hand. As in the Vienna »Last Judgments the left inner wing presents the Creation and Fall of Man (reversing, however, the sequence of episodes from foreground to background) and the expulsion of the Rebel Angels, while the right wing is occupied by a view of Hell. The central panel, however, presents a new image: agreathaywain lumbering across a vast landscape and followed by the great of this world on horseback, including an emperor and a pope (who has been identified as Alexander VI). The lower classes-peasants, burghers, nuns and clergy-snatch tufts of hay from the waggon or fight for it among themselves. In a variation of the theme of the Prado »Tabletop«, this frantic activity is witnessed by Christ who appears, insignificant and resigned, in a golden glory above. Except for an angel praying on top of the haycart, however, no one notices the Divine Presence; and, above all, no one notices that the waggon is being pulled by devils towards Hell and damnation.

 

 


Triptych of Haywain. The Wayfarer. The Road of Life (outer wings)
1500-02
Oil on panel, 135 x 90 cm
Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

 

 

The symbol of the pilgrim on the precarious, threatening road of life was common in medieval painting. The two outer wings of The Haywain depict a poor, fearful and emaciated middle-aged peasant, with his possessions strapped to his back, glancing behind him at a scene of robbery while fending off a vicious dog.
He is about to step on a bridge that is too thin to carry even his weight - a reminder that the next step in life may bring disaster or death. On the right of the painting carefree peasants dance to a bagpiper seated under a tree. In the background a crowd is gathered for a hanging while nearby stands a tall pole surmounted by a wheel on which the bodies of executed criminals were displayed. Altogether it is a scene of threat and fear. Although the work is badly painted and probably all by assistants, the design is certainly by Bosch, who used it in a later circular panel.

 

 

 


Scenes in Hell
Pen and bistre, 163 x 176 mm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

 

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