Northern Renaissance painting has its share of personalitites, and Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516) is certainly among the most original. His Garden of Earthly Delights is among the most complex paintings within his very complex oeuvre. The painting is a triptych depicting, from left, the Garden of Eden, an orgiastic paradise, and Hell. The central panel is full of frolicking humanity, animals, and fantastical creations--living and mechanical. A great deal of coupling and other sexual activity is going on, among all sorts of creatures. This is a moralizing sequence, for in the Hell panel the fate that awaits the frolickers is represented with a ferocious, ingenious violence that harks back to the Middle Ages in its specificity. All manner of tortures are loosed upon the damned; they are eaten and excreted; strung up upon a harp to be plucked; impaled; and beset by fantastic monsters of innumerable variety that recall the fabulous beings of illuminated manuscripts. The whole triptych is a veritable Freudian field day of symbols and dreamlike imaginings. Not surprisingly, Bosch's dark vision produced few imitators, until the twentieth century, when his bizarre works found a kindred audience in the Surrealist group.


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