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."