bosch: strawberry fields nor ever

A cursing of those fanatical, demented, crazed…tormentors and executioners….The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch has certainly puzzled viewers. It is one of the most mysterious and enigmatic paintings ever done. Only five hundred years later has its meaning started to become clear….

Meisler: Scholarly interest in Bosch revived at the turn of the 20th century and mushroomed after a major exhibition of his works in Rotterdam in 1936. Popular writers soon discovered him and proclaimed their find of a 15th-century Freudian or a medieval Surrealist expressing his repressed desires and dreams in bizarre modern symbols. No one seemed to care that his symbolism was rooted in the folk literature of his times. One critic called Bosch "the first spark of that bonfire, Salvador Dali." Dali, who, as a student in Madrid, knew the works of Bosch, felt compelled to deny the influence. "I myself am the anti-Hieronymus Bosch," he proclaimed. Read More:

There are only a couple of ways to understand the painting. The first and most obvious is to assume that it is laden with ethical meanings that are hidden and embedded within symbolic acts and objects. In normal religious paintings nearly every detail may be a symbol. When the baby Jesus holds a goldfinch, for example, this is not only because children like to play with pet birds but also because the goldfinch was believed to love thornbushes and thus recalls the crown of thorns.

---A deep pessimism pervaded his scenes from the life of Christ; and the painter, even in his treatment of the most traditional themes, could not keep from lashing out in a furious rage at human evil. On first glance, for example, the Prado's Adoration of the Magi triptych seems idyllic. But in the background the peace is disturbed by military maneuvers and bloody struggles with beasts. Moreover, the mysterious people who lurk in the barn and stare out at the Virgin and Child have malevolent expressions. They will show up again (this time even more exaggerated) in another Bosch painting, Christ Carrying the Cross, now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Ghent. They are the fanatical, demented, crazed tormentors and executioners of Christ.--- Read More: image:

The European blackbird sings beautifully, but looks sinister in his black costume, so he is a symbol of devilish temptation.In this picture then, the big central group of men and women riding animals may be a symbolic presentation of sinners carried away by deadly sins. Yet they do not fit the established conventions. The man on the lion is no doubt one of the Angry. But why is he carrying an enormous fish? There are two people on a camel; now the camel, because it can go so long without drinking, is a symbol of Temperance, but the riders are trying to tickle its neck and do not appear to typify self-control, or its opposite.

---Yet even without Freudian and Surrealist imagery, there is little doubt that Bosch somehow strikes a chord with his modern admirers. Defending Bosch almost 400 years ago, Fra Sigüenza wrote, "If there are any absurdities here, they are ours, not his." Bosch described terrible, unbearable holocausts crushing mankind for its sins. In a century of turmoil and strife, it is hard not to feel that the absurdities pictured before us may, after all, be our own.---Read More: image:

So again, in Christian iconography, the strawberry symbolizes perfect virtue because it is all sweet fruit without a stone and because it is so humble, hiding itself on the ground under leaves; the Virgin Mary sometimes has her robe embroidered with strawberries. Why are several of these naked people, among whom not a single sign of the Christian faith is to be seen, caressing large strawberries with expressions of appetite? Raspberries also appear, and imaginary fruits that have never existed in this world and so cannot be general symbols. Many of Bosch’s creations appear nowhere else in the universe of medieval imagery.

Foucault:In any case, the Reason- Madness nexus constitutes for Western culture one of the dimen-sions of its originality; it already accompanied that culture long before Hieronymus Bosch, and will follow it long after Nietzsche and Artaud. What, then, is this confrontation beneath the language of reason? Where can an interrogation lead us which does not follow reason in its horizontal course, but seeks to retrace in time that constant vertically which confronts European culture with what it is not, establishes its range by its own derangement? Read More: image:

Apparently, it is impossible to bring all the dream objects of this picture into a single pattern governed by any well-known and acknowledged type of symbolism and to say that, when interpreted thus, they form a coherent description of some aspect of human life.

Obviously, there are variants of this explanation. One is that the painting is a difficult message in cipher: it is a sermon for a select few, concealed by a set of esoteric symbols that were never widely known and are now all but forgotten. The symbols were used by a group that practiced a secret religion, not Christian, which was therefore heretical and subject upon discovery to terrible punishments, but which considered itself nobler and purer and more enlightened than Christianity with its laxities and abuses.

Foucault:and Erasmus's Praise of Folly. And confronting all these discussions, with their tireless dialectic, confronting these discourses constantly reworded and reworked, a long dynasty of images, from Hieronymus Bosch with The Cure of Madness and The Ship of Fools, down to Brueghel and his Dulle Griet, woodcuts and engravings transcribe what the theater, what literature and art have already taken up: the intermingled themes of the Feast and of the Dance of Fools. Indeed, from the fifteenth century on, the face of madness has haunted the imagination of Western man. Read More: image:,_Hieronymus_-_The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights,_central_panel_-_Deta


This is certainly possible. How many moderns have ever heard of the heretical sect called the Cathari, the Pure People? Yet its members were powerful in northern Italy and southern France for at least a hundred years, and it took a crusade to stamp them out. There were other such sects, all underground, using apocalyptic symbols and rituals. Some of them were Adamite and believed in collective nudity at their gatherings. Tempting to believe, it still has to be discarded. Many of the things that the people are doing are so silly, so intentionally meant to be contemptible in a light childish way, that we can’t accept them as respectable enlightened characters who have a secret insight into the ultimate meaning of life.

---Te first decisive trait of the capitalist religion is that it is a purely cultic religion, perhaps the most extremely cultic that ever existed. Within it, nothing has meaning that is not immediately related to the cult; it has no specific dogma or theology. Utilitarianism acquires in it, from this viewpoint, its religious coloration. ---Read More: image:

There is no sign of God or godliness. No religious feeling appears in even the smallest detail; the people live for themselves and one another in a brittle, dreamlike present, without effort, aspiration or ideal. In effect, the prescient Bosch was railing against the capitalization of religion in its early bourgeois state; the same forces, the executioners of Christ, “the fanatical, demented, crazed, tormentors and executioners” ( Meisler) where accumulation of wealth and the power it confers have become religion; the money changers in the temple;  A theme taken up four-hundred years later:

Benjamin’s fragment ‘Capitalism as Religion’, written in 1921, was only published several decades after his death. Its aim is to show that capitalism is a cultic religion, without mercy or truce, leading humanity to the ‘house of despair’. It is an astonishing document, directly based on Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, but – in ways akin to Ernst Bloch or Erich Fromm – transforming Weber’s ‘value-free’ analysis into a ferocious anticapitalist argument, probably inspired by Gustav Landauer’s romantic and libertarian socialism. Read More:

…The title of the fragment is directly borrowed from Ernst Bloch’s 1921 Tomas Münzer as theologian of the Revolution, which denounces Calvinism for having ‘completely destroyed Christianity’, replacing it with the elements of a new religion, ‘capitalism as religion [Kapitalismus als religion]’, or the Church of Mammon. …‘One must see capitalism as a religion’: it is with this categorical statement that the fragment opens. T is is followed by a reference to Weber’s thesis, which doubles as a critical annotation: ‘to demonstrate the religious structure of capitalism – i.e. to demonstrate that it is not only a formation conditioned by religion, as Weber thinks, but an essentially religious phenomenon – would take us today into the meanders of a boundless universal polemic’. Further on, the same idea appears again, in a somewhat attenuated form, in fact closer to the Weberian argument: ‘Christianity, at the time of the Reformation, did not favour the establishment of capitalism, it transformed itself into capitalism’. Tis is not so far from the conclusions of T e Protestant Ethic. What is new is the idea of the properly religious nature of the capitalist system itself: this goes well beyond Weber, even if it relies on many aspects of his analysis. Read More:

Robert Milton Underwood Jr.:”But Dixon observes that it is necessary to look at pre-Rosicrucian alchemy in order to understand what Bosch was exposed to at the time when he painted “Garden of Earthly Delights.” Once the occult emblematic images of Rosicrucianism can be isolated in old texts, then the images that remain give us a good picture of the influences that Bosch had been exposed to. And understanding those influences can help us to understand meaning in his triptych. One bit of evidence that Bosch was indeed aware of alchemy was that a member of the family of his in-laws was an apothecary, and alchemy was directly related to pharmacy. Read More:

We now consider alchemy an occult art, but it was not thought so in its time. Some of its
procedures, including that of distillation, were the foundation of modern chemistry. With the process of distillation, alchemists tried to pull the essence from fruits, flowers, herbs and animal products to make not only healing potions, but also paint products and cosmetics. The ultimate goal of the alchemists was to save the macrocosm (viz., the world) by healing the microcosm (i.e., the human body)….

…Since prayer and study were a part of their practice, Alchemists gained acceptance from
the Church. They wanted to return mankind to the pure state that had been lost at the time of the biblical fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. The search for a purifying elixir had been a primary objective for a long time, and in order to keep their research private from the uneducated and the undeserving, they used an esoteric system of pictorial codes. These symbolic images were developed over a period of many centuries, and alchemic texts from the medieval era would likely have included images that had been developed and refined over hundreds of years. The images were often a combination of traditional religious symbolism combined with those that were purely of the imagination. Read More:




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