Hieronymus Boschs artwork is an] erotic derangement that turns us all into voyeurs, a place filled with the intoxicating air of perfect liberty. This is one of the impressions given off from the paintings by Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch. In the late 15th Century, Bosch created incredible altarpieces and paintings of religious wonder, adding contemporary views on magic and mysticism. These peculiar pieces fascinated viewers of the art world, giving them new ideas and impressions to ponder about concepts of life and of the world. Three of Bosch's altarpieces depict such mystic and magical qualities: The Epiphany, The Temptation of St. Anthony, and the infamous Garden of Earthly Delights. In these pieces, the art world becomes filled with this intoxication of magic and alchemy depicted by the Dutch painter of Biblical morals and concepts.
Also known as The Adoration of the Magi, Bosch's triptych of The Epiphany was painted just before the turn of the century in 1495. In this triptych altarpiece, Bosch has the Adoration in the center panel while the two side panels depict the two donors and their patron saints. In the central panel, Mary and Child are seen just outside a small, run-down shack. The mother and child are being presented with gifts from the pilgrims, as well as being eyed by on-looking followers. In the background of the image, Bosch paints a serene landscape of plains and hills, containing cavalries squaring against one another in front of the idealized city of Jerusalem (Bosch, The Epiphany). The type of magic and mysticism used in this piece is not one of chemistry or witchcraft, but one of de-idealizing the spiritual realm and making it much more a part of the terrestrial. In previous works of art with the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child, both are depicted in the very center of the piece, or at least with halos and/or in clothing that is extremely noticeable off first glance, such as a lush red hue. In Bosch's The Epiphany, the Mother and Child are both depicted in the formal positions, where Mary is holding the Child in her lap. However, both are wearing clothing whose colors match the tone of the scenery around them. If anything, the pilgrims' clothes are more noticeable off first glance than the Mother and Child. Mary is wearing a dark-colored gown, matching the color of the two donors in the side panels. This type of artistic magic renders the Virgin Mary and Child as human-like, a part of the terrestrial and everyday world. This contemporary form of de-idealizing the Mother and Child put the family in a commoner's eyes, as if the family were human just like every other pilgrim, follower, and commoner. This mystic depiction of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child gives the art world that intoxication of what is real and what is a part of the spiritual realm, melding that border. Bosch creates that mesh with this illusion of reality with artistic mysticism.
Around a decade after the terrestrial depiction of the Holy Family, Bosch creates another magical masterpiece. Painted as another triptych on wood panels, Bosch gives the art world The Temptations of St. Anthony in 1505. Using three panels blended together, Bosch paints the temptations dealt by Saint Anthony on his pilgrimage. For example, the illusions of satyrs, centaurs, silver and gold coins, and hundreds of demons are depicted in Bosch's altarpiece. The central panel of the piece shows St. Anthony being tormented and tortured by these devils and demons (Bosch, The Temptations of St. Anthony). The mysticism used in this piece shows such insane and bizarre images and depictions, so unrealistic to the art world. Even the background sky in Bosch's altarpiece goes from blue to black in an instance. The hills and cityscape underneath this black sky are all in flames, showing the true disaster and torment in the pilgrimage of St. Anthony. The altar depicted where he is kneeling is worn down, broken, burnt, and on the verge of collapsing. The art world gets this depiction of a run-down just under three hundred years later in the famous Abbey in an Oak Forest painting by Caspar Friedrich (Friedrich, Abbey in an Oak Tree). Also alike Friedrich's infamous piece, the tone of Bosch's altarpiece is extremely harsh and tormenting. The artistic magic behind the rendering of these demons and devils in St. Anthony's illusions make this piece seem extremely realistic, putting viewers in the window to watch this saint to be tortured. The spiritual and emotional realms have been melded into the intoxicating terrestrial realm, even with every pilgrim and follower of not only St. Anthony, but the Christian faith, by the artistic mysticism of Hieronymus Bosch.
A final intoxicating piece mastered by Bosch was around the turn of the 16th Century. The Dutch painter composes yet another triptych of artistic magic and mysticism. The Garden of Earthly Delights is renowned as one of Bosch's most incredible pieces of art, mostly for its shear wonder and illusion of its content. In this altarpiece, Bosch paints a narrative of events and illusions. Reading from left to right, the left panel depicts the presentation of Adam to Eve from God. This one side panel shows a serene, clean landscape in the background behind the trio, depicting the magical purity of God, Adam, and Eve. Moving to the central panel, the magical intoxication of voyeurism occurs. In the center of this infamous altarpiece, Bosch paints all the temptations of humankind, including several sets of nude couples, unique animals, and rare fruits (Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights). The temptations of lust and greed are extremely apparent in this image. In the Bible and Testaments, the temptations of man started with Eve taking the apple from in the Garden of Eden. With this one act sprouted the seven deadly sins, as the concept is shown by Bosch in this central panel. The intoxication of mankind with these wants and desires magically change people and their views on life. The right side of the altarpiece depicts the torments and tortures of Hell and damnation. The tone and mood of this side of The Garden of Earthly Delights is very similar to an earlier-mentioned work of The Temptation of St. Anthony. The mood of this right panel is incredibly dark and torturous. The color scheme is extremely dimly-lit, exactly like the depiction of the temptations with St. Anthony. The way Bosch composes this altarpiece; it is mostly read as a narrative from left to right, but it can also be seen as a what-to-do/what-not-to-do informational painting. The central panel is still all the temptations of man and all the illusions and mysticism that desires possess. Viewers can admire the wants that are depicted in this central panel and either accept them or reject them. If a person were to accept the mystics of temptations, the right panel would end up being their domain, according to the Bible and the Old and New Testaments. If that same person was to do the opposite and reject the temptations that Bosch depicts, that person would end up being in the left-side panel after their life passes. They would get to admonish the peace and innocence that was once a part of man before the desires overcame Adam and Eve. Bosch also has artistic magic and mysticism in this altarpiece, but the concept differs than in the previous two paintings (Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights). The spiritual and emotional realms are not melded with the terrestrial world in this final altarpiece. However, the mystic appeal of want and desire paired with the artistic rendering of the narrative of life creates this intoxication of magic and wonder. The art world chooses their own fate when viewing The Garden of Earthly Delights, whether or not the desires and mystics hold true to their values and beliefs. The art public is "[turned] into voyeurs, a place filled with the intoxicating air of perfect liberty" (Belting).
Three pieces from Hieronymus Bosch were composed of the magical and mystical concepts of drawing in viewers of the art world. The blending of the spiritual and emotional realms with the realistic and terrestrial worlds in The Epiphany, The Temptation of St. Anthony, and in The Garden of Earthly Delights create a sense of wonder and appeal to viewers and followers of the Christian faith, making concepts and Biblical ideas that were fantastic and illusions into reality. Bosch not only uses artistic rendering to create religious scenes and altarpieces for the public to view, but the magic and mysticism behind his approach and technique leaves his audience in a state of awe, torn between what is real and what is fictional. With the connection and melding of spiritual and terrestrial worlds, the art world gathers an ever-lasting fill of magic and mysticism, started by the Dutch master, Hieronymus Bosch.
Belting, Hans. Garden of Earthly Delights. Munich: Prestel, 2005.
Bosch, Hieronymus. The Epiphany. 1495. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.
Bosch, Hieronymus. The Garden of Earthly Delights. 1500. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.
Bosch, Hieronymus. The Temptation of St. Anthony. 1505. Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon, Portugal.
Friedrich, Caspar David. Abbey in an Oak Forest. 1809. Charlottenburg, Berlin, Germany.