Ensor’s show at MoMA reminded me of yet another comparison: a similarly weird, awkwardly- figured, semi- allegorical/demonic painter: Bosch. Ensor’s work is deliberately bizarre as a method of self- fashioning, while Hieronymus Bosch– well, is anybody’s guess, but mine would be he couldn’t help himself. He was truly odd.
If you want a fun trip around the world, take Google Earth over to the Prado Museum in Spain where you can see Bosch’s masterful triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights in which a “religious” imagination runs riot.
Things are fairly normal on the left hand side, where God creates Adam and Eve. Hell is still recognizable in the right hand panel. In the center, the garden of earthly delights is full of nude cavorting men, women, birds and monsters who stick things in odd places rather than the more innocent pleasures of, say, board games and ice cream.
Check out some of Bosch’s earthly delights:
Each of these scenes are supposed to have an individual moral meaning, but they all seem centered on the pleasures of the flesh. Although the triptych form suggests it was intended as a altarpiece, the bizarre acts of the nude figures have convinced most art historians that it must have been intended for a lay person. (Or a swinging monastery perhaps??)
The difficult symbology of the central panel has often been interpreted as a warning over life’s temptations, and what a warning it is. Symbolism of this work is certainly open to interpretation and this worked in Bosch’s favor. Amazingly considering the subject matter, this panel was popular enough to generate many copies and Bosch flourished even under the sway of the Medieval Church. While I’m not sure of the particulars, I know what the works says to me:
Look at me! Look at all these happy, nude cavorting figures exploring their sexuality. What fun, with fruit and water and flowers and other naked people! This is so much more interesting than those two smaller, boring panels to the side. Wouldn’t you like to live here?