Pioneer of Surrealism

“Garden of Earthly Delights”

Hieronymus Bosch, c. 1480-1505, oil on panel, 220 x 390 cm (Prado, Madrid)


Hieronymus Bosch was born around 145o in what is presently known as the Netherlands. Not much is known about this “psychedelic” religious artist because he was not much of a writer.

Bosch really caught my attention because his work has everything that would not be shown in a church, though the piece expresses three theoretically biblical themes: Heaven, Earth, and Hell. His courage to express his ideas freely, really draws me to his style, especially in a time when a lot of artists had the same style. This piece is a very large and dynamic triptych which needs to be looked at closely to see the morbidness of most of his images (looks can be deceiving).  The use of bold and bright colors makes the piece particularly appealing to the eye and has a seemingly happy appearance to it.

The use of value is used to separate the three realms painted in this piece. The brighter, lighter colors depict a Utopia (Heaven), and transitions to a more neutral scene as Earth, and finally ends with dark dramatic colors to show Hell. These colors are very successful at luring emotions to each of the panels because of the large variance in each of the images (Dunne, 2016).

This piece makes me feel like I am listening to a Pink Floyd album. His work is bold and bright which would draw anyones attention to it. I think his work brings the reality of how horrible humanity can be and the importance of doing good to reach some sort victory in the end, like a Valhalla in Nordic mythology. Knowing me, this would be a center piece of my house, though the images are decently graphic, I find that the triptych tells such a diverse story it can be interpreted so differently be each viewer.

Hieronymus Bosch makes the viewer feel like they are seeing inside his mind, which may feel uncomfortable for some, because what they are viewing is the authenticity of imagination. Bosch even stepped away from the typical biblical views of a scorching hell, giving his “hell” demons with faces and swords, presenting a battle field against humanity. His style was so abnormal, it founded most of the ideas of todays “surrealism”.

“The Surrealist artists sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Disdaining rationalism and literary realism, and powerfully influenced by psychoanalysis, the Surrealists believed the rational mind repressed the power of the imagination, weighting it down with taboos.”

The Art Story

Humanism is an apparent influence in Bosch’s work because of his focus on humans with no holy or saintly depictions and what is wrong or right with them. His work inherently depicted the sins done by humans on Earth.  Since Bosch was greatly connected to religion through The Brotherhood of Our Lady, I think his pieces were created to make people believe that there were still consequences for their actions and that hell was real and relevant (Jones, 2016). He did this by painting hell very dramatically with dark and contrasting colors along with images of demons and morbid figures.

“The Garden of Earthly Delights, while it does contain biblical images of God and the Creation story, has a much stronger focus on the pursuit and punishment of earthly indulgences and carnal pleasure than God’s role in judging man, or how to reach salvation after committing these sins.”

Inquiries Journal

“BBC – Culture – The ultimate vision of hell.” BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2017.
Dunne, Nathan. “How Hieronymus Bosch’s Hell Lives on Today.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 27 Apr. 2016. Web. 16 Feb. 2017.
Jones, Jonathan. “Hieronymus Bosch review – a heavenly host of delights on the road to hell.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 11 Feb. 2016. Web. 16 Feb. 2017.
“Passing Time in “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch.” Inquiries Journal. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2017.


  1. I really found your analysis quite compelling. I have seen this piece before and initially thought that it was just another bright painting. After looking closer at it, I can see the artists twisted mind at work. It adds an entirely new aspect to the piece that can be easily overlooked. I did not know that it depicted Heaven, Earth and Hell. Heaven is clearly a utopic realm with all the animals and tranquility, but is also seemingly boring at the same time. Besides the wickedness portrayed in Hell; it seems like it is far more interesting there. The odd shapes and activities makes me feel like I want to be there. You noted that the artist comes from the Netherlands. Being a place that is notoriously drug friendly, I wonder if the artist had been experimenting with some kind of psychedelics to bring upon the inspiration for this style of painting. Nonetheless, its unlike any other piece I have seen from this era and is almost futuristic in its style.


  2. This unique piece of art is wildly interesting in a sick chaotic sort of way. I totally agree that it is an unveiled window into the artists mind. I do not think he is “twisted” as you say, but more that no one can be completely comfortable or fully understand a mind other than their own. As many have mentioned, the first glance does not do any justice to this piece. The detail is small and thus makes it hard to capture my attention. This being said, it is exactly this small detail that that is so captivation after one really looks at it. Also as you mentioned it is such an intricate piece one can interpret it in so many ways; you mentioned how it is humanist, so I will share how it could be a critique of established religion. Heaven looks empty, thus leading a viewer to see it as an unlikely place to end up. A land mostly populated by animals shows that in fact humans are not as a whole capable of ever reaching such a place. It paints a hopeless picture of the chaotic earth where people mill about trying to reach the unattainable, while many end up suffering on earth and in hell in the end.


  3. Bridget, how do I begin to describe how this art makes me feel? Overwhelmed, could be a usage. Anywhere from the colors, space, lines, and all around personality of the piece. I personally have never seen this piece of art before, however I quickly fell in love with it. I believe for me that the reason I have such strong feelings for it, is that it contains so many colors. When you had posted the picture of the penguin a week back, I loved the colors in that particular piece because they were relaxing and light. This piece is loud, vibrant, and awake. Your conversation on the value, and seperation of the three pieces allow for again, color to be blended together and complement each other. Giving us this unique Utopia, where anything seems possible.


  4. I have never seen this art piece before, but the second I opened up your blog I was drawn to its overwhelming and chaotic look. You described this painting by Bosch really well. I would have never known that this piece was expressing three theoretically biblical themes: Heaven, Earth, and Hell. But I can totally see it now….. The far-left side of the painting (Heaven) looks and feels brighter and has been painted with lighter colors. The middle of the painting (earth) gives off more of an earthy vibe with its neutral colors. The far right of the painting is clearly representing hell with its dark colors and weird looking creatures. In your post, you stated that, “these colors are very successful at luring emotions to each of the panels because of the large variance in each of the images” and I agree. This is a powerful piece.

    You may enjoy this virtual tour I found online. The tour discusses different views on what the meaning of The Garden of Earthly Delights may be. The tour also provides a pretty neat documentary that gives you an up-close look of the painting. i


  5. I have never seen this piece before, and as I was looking for artwork to look up I saw this particular one, and I was blown away. Bosch had a way with making his art his own, even religion, and this one proves the facts. As i was looking I would see so many things and just wonder why he would paint something in a odd and just straight strange way. You are correct to say you would not see this in a church, but it all comes in to place, Heaven, Earth, and Hell! Heaven looks peaceful, tranquil and light tones, then you go to Earth and it is so much different, you see something that looks like a mussel shell, people in large objects of fruit,grabbing one another,doing things so un natural in what you would say God found to be forbidden. Then comes Hell, you can see pain, disgust, what would be people screaming, monsters eating humans, humans letting and allowing to be felt up, throwing up on one another. Is this the sins and how we have to pay for them? This art piece is one of many to just look at and spend hours studying to try to figure out.

    Thank you! I found I wouldn’t like this painting particularly because it just scare me, I will observe but I know I would be frightened as well.


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