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10 Things You Don't Know About 'The Garden of Earthly Delights'

Studying by far my most read painting

By Kamna KirtiPublished 7 months ago 3 min read

At first glance, the painting might look chaotic and leave you overwhelmed.

But as you analyze it more deeply, you'll be astounded by Bosch's creativity, satire, progressive mindset, and Christian iconography.

Here are 10 interesting facts about this intricate masterpiece that I'm sure are often overlooked.


1. Presence of 6 owls

Pygmy Owl (Left Panel), Oversized owls (Central Panel)

This painting has more owls than you can catch at first glance.

To be precise, 6 owls are present in The Garden of Earthly Delights. One of them is almost invisible in the left panel.

• The tiny pygmy owl sneaks peek through the Fountain of Paradise in the left panel.

• The oversized owls are present in the central panel gazing directly at the viewer.

• An alienated human with an owl-shaped face, known as "Prince of Hell," sits on the potty chair in the rightmost panel and simultaneously consumes and excretes a human.

Although owls were considered evil in traditional folklore, Louis Charbonneau-Lassay's Bestiary of Christ states that pygmy owls accompanied the late traveler along country roads.

He says, "In the bird that sees clearly in the dark when all others are blind, and when it is hunted has the good sense and the caution to remain hidden all day, the Greeks saw a symbol in which were united the three qualities of wisdom, knowledge, and Prudence."


2. Exotic animals and weird-looking humans

In the left panel, ugly fantastical creatures are present in the pond.

The 3-headed bird points to the Trinity. Peacock, duck, wild boar, elephant, monkey, unicorn, horse, porcupine, and giraffe are present. Many of these animals were seen for the first time in this painting.

How? Did Bosch travel?

Bosch became a member of the conservative Christian brotherhood and had easy access to the cathedral's library and archives.

Multiple sketches in the painting were inspired by medieval marginalia called drolleries. For instance -

A killer rabbit (left - Hell panel) (Right - marginalia)


3. Bosch - a precursor to surrealism?

Bosch was way ahead of his time. His solid and bizarre imagination became a source of inspiration to many surrealists.

The unusual rock formation in the form of a weeping face called Golgotha - The Place of the Skull inspired Salvador Dali for his painting The Persistence of Memory.

What do you think about the main protagonist in Remedios Varo's Creation of the Birds? Does she resemble Bosch's oversized owl?


4. Presence of Noah?

In the central panel, Noah, a man with wine leaves is present behind Adam.


5. Eve with a communion wafer

Adam and Eve are present in the bottom right corner. Eve is encased in a cylindrical glass shield with a communion wafer gagged in her mouth. This portrayal is theologically controversial.

It appears that eve's voice is intentionally silenced.


6. Sexual connotation of fruits

• The hollowed-out fruits represent female genitalia. Two cherries on a naked woman show male genitalia.

• The giant strawberries depict hedonistic pleasures. Blackberries with multiple seeds depict promiscuity.

• On the left, a couple attached to the umbilical cord of a large flower is trapped in the circular glass showing that pleasure is transient.

• The empty mussel shells, broken eggs and carcasses represent a lack of spirituality.


7. Seven deadly sins

This snapshot covers the "7 deadly sins", as enumerated by Pope Gregory in AD 590.

• Greed - A man is excreting coins in a cesspool.

• Gluttony - Another one vomits his own food in the cesspool.

• Pride - A naked woman with an uncanny resemblance to Eve and a toad crawling up her breasts. Her mirror image is visible in the buttocks of a demon.

• Sloth - A man sleeps while a toad crawls over his body.


8. Pig-shaped choirmaster

The pig-shaped choirmaster yells and the musical notes are imprinted on the giant buttocks of a man. Little trivia - this musical note is transcribed in modern music.


9. Giant bagpipe

The giant bagpipe on Bosch's head depicts the erotic instrument due to its similarities with a man's scrotum and penis. It also shows strange couples together, perhaps portraying "Beastiality?"


10. Crescent moon and Turk flags

The crescent moon on the fountain shows the Turks - the enemy of Christianity in the middle ages. The presence of black-colored humans represents Turks or Muslims.


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About the Creator

Kamna Kirti

Art enthusiast. I engage with art at a deep level. I also share insights about entrepreneurship, founders & nascent technologies.

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