Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




Heaven and Hell

Crime and corruption in a turbulent world


In the midst of the fire stand diabolical hangmen with knives, scythes, drills, axes, picks, shovels and other instruments with which they torment the souls of gluttons, beheading them, running them through with spits, drawing and quartering them and then throwing them into the fire. There they melt like fat in the pan.

After The Vision of Tundale, 1484


Paradise, worldly pleasures and Satan's realm:
An overall view of
Bosch's three-piece masterwork The Garden of Earthly Delights


The spectacle depicted here is a devastating one: devils and demons, spectres and other monstrous figures attack the poor sinners to rack, torture and torment them in indescribably grotesque ways. The instruments of torture that feature so prominently in this hellish scenario, such as the bell and gigantic musical instruments, are wholly unconventional. Pathetic sinners are woven alive into the strings of an enormous harp, shut into a drum or shackled to a huge lute to endure the beat of a diabolical symphony, a world-class apocalyptic martyrdom. Despite the surreal world of madness and perversion that unfolds like a nightmare in this painting, it is undeniably a masterpiece of consummate elegance and perfection.

Never before or since has a painter succeeded in creating a more symbolically perverse orgy of torture than Hieronymus Bosch. There could be no crasser contrast to the works of the Italian Renaissance than this. The right panel of his triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights, considered to be the Netherlandish painters masterpiece, reveals nothing of human beauty. It intricately embroiders the hellish sufferings to which man in his imperfection is condemned. Bosch's imagination is inventive on an unprecedented and unparalleled scale. With ghoulish wit, he delights in staging this inferno teeming with monstrous atrocities. As overwhelmingly bizarre as all this may seem, Bosch's imagination was, in fact, rooted in the reality of his times. People groaned under the weight of increasing taxation. Crime and corruption were rampant. Bishops, cardinals and Popes kept mistresses, fathered children and even showed them to the public at Mass. Of monks it was said then that they spent the day indulging in "flatulent discourse, dice games and gluttony". It was commonplace that their "corruption stank to high heaven". Bosch's contemporaries may indeed have recalled the words of the prophet Isaiah (5: 11—12, 14): "Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them! And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands.... Therefore hell hath enlarged herself and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it." However, the man who unleashed such unmitigated atrocities onto the canvas did not fear Divine Judgement, at least not in the eyes of the Spanish satirist Quevedo у Villegas (d. 1645), who had the painter engage in a fictive dialogue in which he claimed not to believe in the devil or in hell.


Hieronymus Bosch
The Musicians Hell
Triptych of Garden of Earthly Delights
(right wing)
c. 1500
Oil on panel, 220 x 97 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid


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