Thursday, August 14, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: The Garden of Earthly Delights

(Center panel) The Garden of Earthly Delights (1503-1504) by Hieronymus Bosch,
the best of his forty works that survive, uniquely combines medieval and renaissance,
horror and humour, religious and secular values, and figures and landscape. (Paul Johnson)
I read an entire large art book on Bosch and wound up with a real appreciation for his work, as bizarre as it often looks. The author's premise was partly based on disproving what Paul Johnson mentions in his Art: A New History, that Bosch was a member of a quasi-heretical congregation. This was the first time, to be honest, that it occurred to me that these large art books could be written to prove or dispute others' scholarship. Silly of me, I know, since that goes on in every other field so why wouldn't that be the case for art?

At any rate, the point I enjoy the point Johnson makes about how "reading art" was a popular pastime. Popular or not, it's something we've lost in our age and which I appreciate learning a bit about under Johnson's tutelage.
Yet there was laughter in art, even if double-faced. It is a common modern view that Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516) painted the horrors of life and death, and aimed to terrify and to enforce repentance, by his alarming compositions. ... But he also aimed to excite, to thrill, to fascinate and to amuse. There is literary evidence, unearthed by the sharp reader of texts as well as pictures Ernst Gombrich, that collectors bought Bosch for that reason. He made them laugh at folly and its consequences, as Hogarth was to do 250 years later. The minute events of his gruesome tales were fantasies and obviously so. Yet by painting them in the Flemish tradition of realism and attention to detail, he made them seem credible at a certain level, and because credible hilarious. So the men laughed uproariously when, alone with their wine, they collectively considered a Bosch work, and put on straight faces and didactic expressions when their women fold appeared and asked to have the painting "explained."

No comments:

Post a Comment