The Garden of Earthly Delights is interpreted with reference to creation and human futility – often seen as a progressive concept for an artist during the fifteenth-century. Although it is now thought that Bosch’s work represented the beliefs of his era, much of Bosch’s work calls the interest of contemporary viewers.

For an artist during the High Renaissance in the Netherlands, the work of Hieronymus Bosch gives an unconventional impression. Though his triptychs communicate the devotion and ethics of his time, Bosch exhibits an idiosyncratic approach that embodies a sense of surreal wittiness. The Garden of Earthly Delights exemplifies an object that fits the notion of Kant’s interpretation of sublimity and aesthetic judgements.

Left Panel: The Creation Scene

Before The Fall of Man?

The Innocent: Sometimes known as the Joining of Adam and Eve. The three figures, Adam, Eve, and the Christ-like man, form a closed circuit of complex, divine energy that represents the creation of Eve, marriage, and the urge to reproduce.The fantastical creatures depict exotic animals and imaginings, though it is thought that Bosch had drawn some by sourcing a book of contemporary travel. Some scholars think that the chimeric sensuality of the panel may contradict its innocence.


Foreshadowing an An Apocalyptic End?

The Wicked: Addresses anxieties of the end of time. It is thought that the discrepancies between the interior Christ image and the exterior God figure may suggest the presence of the Antichrist. The interior Christ-like man features no crown or halo, offering only the blessing hand. The role of animals in this panel seem to suggest frivolous representations, however, when we look deeper the depictions of the monkey, animal on prey, coiling serpent, and frog introduce disturbing elements with evil connotations. These sinful animals indicate an unsettling and irregular Creation scene. Could the Christ figure be the Antichrist? Around the 15th century the iconography of the Antichrist was depicted as a man with all of the same features of Christ, this concept was not uncommon in Northern Europe, where Bosch lived for most of his life. Bosch’s creation of the Antichrist is clever and inventive. Frogs were a common indicator of of heresy, often ascribed as the Antichrist’s disciples. The owl, a familiar figure in Bosch’s work, looks out from the phallic pink fountain in the background. The owl is very often associated with darkness, temptation, and danger, identified with the devil. Throughout the scene, an abundance of apples may also suggest the symbol of lust, a device used to unmask the Antichrist. Bosch emphasizes the devilish figure with manipulation and careful arrangement of the Garden, equating the paradise scene with the figure of demonic fear and an apocalyptic premonition. 

Center Panel: The Paradise Garden

World of Purity?

The Innocent: The center panel shares the same horizon line as the left side panel. This sameness suggests a spacial connection and depicts the Garden landscape. Again, we are confronted with fantastical, hybrid animals as human figures engage in an innocent joy of sexual curiosity. According to Belting, the panel represents a world of paradise, as if Adam and Eve had not been expelled from Eden. Belting also states that Bosch’s imagination triumphs the scene, opening a new dimension of freedom by which painting becomes art. 


False and Sinful Prophecy?

The Wicked: Also recognizes the procession from the left to the center panel. The center scene suggests the temptation of lust as presented by the Antichrist – evil disguised as beautiful paradise carries over the same role as the Creation scene. The erotic nudity and sexual excess could only exist in a crooked paradise. Strawberries, cherries, and apples appear throughout the landscape, often as focal areas. The fruit indicates that the oblivious cavorting figures will continue on their way, sated with evil – as fruit often carried an association with sin. The alchemy of the Antichrist carries through to center as humans accept the temptations of various fruits and sexual behaviors. Overall, the center scene depicts the lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of god in a false paradise; the Antichrist sustains his deceitful rein over man, thus, steering them closer to apocalyptic conditions.

Right Panel: The Hell Scape 

The Innocent: The right panel depicts a hell scape where humans have surrendered to the devil. The densely detailed night scene is one of retribution. Bosch’s inventive depiction of hell presents the viewer with a realistic world where humans as punished by animals, and subjected to torments that symbolize the seven deadly sins. 


(The Very Similar)

The Wicked: Those who have fallen prey to the Antichrist attend the eternal retribution of hell for the temptations that led them to their downfall.