I like to travel and study art and culture. I love sharing my experiences and interpretations of art with others.
Given the end of the world was supposed to end on December 21, 2012, it is only appropriate to offer up a tongue-in-cheek gift (of sorts) for your contemplation, while you sit back to wait for your narrow escape or anticipated demise. What follows is a guide to the masses on what to expect when you are expecting to die, as conceived by the artist Hieronymus Bosch.
Who Was Hieronymus Bosch?
Hieronymus Bosch was an extremely talented, eccentric, and religious artist who lived in the Netherlands during the fifteenth century. The topic of his paintings consisted mostly of theological warnings through allegorical depictions of stories from the Bible. His methods may also have been in keeping in concordance with the benefactors who commissioned his work, including Roman Catholic King Philip II of Spain, who was his greatest patron. Not much else is known about his personal life, but his artwork is very well-known for its brash and sometimes gruesome images meant to intimidate a heretic into redemption.
A good example of his stipulations to avoid damnation would be his triptych, Garden of Earthly Delights, depicting Adam and Eve in paradise and the fire and brimstone of hell. Close observation of the first panel shows a man and woman living in harmony with the earth and God until the devil shows up. The second shows their ostracized descendants partaking in perverted sexual acts, war, and other debauchery that ultimately lands them all in the third panel, Hell. To be fair, this was the Middle Ages, and few knew how to read back then. Paintings such as this, which decorated the king’s castle and the walls of cathedrals, were meant to be overly harsh in expression and were designed to invoke fear. They pulled no punches in letting the parishioners know that God was the boss, and supposedly by God’s decree, so was the king.
The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things
Incredibly, this masterpiece by Bosch was conceived as a piece of furniture to adorn the bedroom in King Philip’s Escorial palace. Made of interlocking wood panels, its dimensions are 47.2" x 59.1" (120 cm x 150 cm) with the pictures painted in oil on the tabletop. It shows a series of small paintings depicting everyday folk engaged in each of the deadly sins under the watchful eye of Christ, who is pictured in the center bearing the marks of crucifixion. His presence reminds the sinner of how much trouble he went through to get him or her out of trouble with God, yet they continue their hard-headed misdeeds. The outer realms depict Death, The Last Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Notice the man on his deathbed with the angel of death and the heavenly angel waiting patiently to find out who will take his soul.
Some of the detail may be hard to see with the naked eye, but be rest assured, there are some pretty unnerving and raunchy scenes in these paintings.
Allegorical Figures and Symbols Depicted
- Wrath (Ira)
- Greed (Avaricia)
- Envy (Invidia)
- Pride (Superbia)
- Gluttony (Gula)
- Sloth (Accidia)
- Lust (Luxuria)
What seemed like a happy visit between neighbors turns into a vicious argument. The man with the sword is so angry he becomes violent and clobbers the monk with a chair. Somehow, this sadistic man’s wife contains her emotions long enough to restrain her maniacal husband from slicing and finishing him off. "Mr. Hothead" makes a second appearance in the Hell scene of the Last Four Things as the poor chap being drawn and quartered on the rack by demons. This is a warning to count to ten before going ballistic.
This one we all are quite familiar with after the fall of the economy in 2008. This panel depicts a wealthy nobleman bribing a judge to act in his favor by ordering the taking of all of the poor peasant’s money and property. The odds are certainly against him since the court observers seem to be unaware of the flagrant bribe going on between the judge and the nobleman happening right before their eyes. No problem, the nobleman will be rewarded with a spa treatment in boiling oil.
This painting is of a people buying things they don’t need, simply because the other guy bought it previously. This is a warning to try to be content with what you already have, and refrain from unnecessary desires. The barking dogs and the merchant holding the bone are allegorical figures referring to an ancient proverb, “Two dogs with one bone seldom reach an agreement.”
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The vain noblewoman primps in the mirror trying to make herself as beautiful as possible. She puts on her fine jewels and best clothes to look admiringly at her own image for entirely too long. She also reappears in the painting of Hell, shown with a frog crawling over her body representing the devil entering her. Alongside her sits a demon who forcefully encourages her to eternally gaze at her transformed ugly face in the mirror.
Mom, Dad, and big brother are assuredly on their way to hell for being so selfish that the fat baby has to beg for a swig of booze. His pudgy little body confirms he hasn’t been too neglected, nor will he stand to be deprived for much longer. They are voraciously eating, consuming so much food and alcohol that it isn’t possible to digest it all without getting sick. Consequently, they allow a cooked turkey to lie in waste on the floor. Mom, undaunted, brings in another to replace it. In hell, they’ll all enjoy being force-fed until they burst by demons in an eternal feast of rats, toads, snakes, and lizards.
“Sister Mary up and at 'em” is unsuccessful in waking “Lazy-Bones Parishioner” from her aimless slumber in time for church. "Ms. Bones,” propped up by her extra fluffy pillow, remains sound asleep showing no interest in attending church or doing anything but sleep. In the grand scheme of things, she should probably remain asleep because she will soon find no peace in hell. A special demon hand-picked for her and dressed as “Sister Mary” will forever bash "Ms. Bones” on the backside with a sledgehammer, thus painfully breaking her spine again, and again while another demon holds her tightly in place.
This scene would be considered almost dirty if the participants were not fully clothed! Bosch even adds a cover of privacy over pertinent parts by draping the tent cloth over the fornicators. Their drunken escapades may be fun now with plenty of wine, lovemaking, and song, but soon they'll all share their love nests with the demons of hell.
What Can You Do Now?
Although it may seem like it is too late to reform, it really isn’t! Just as there are seven deadly sins, there are seven cardinal virtues associated with Christianity. They are chastity, moderation, generosity, zeal, meekness, charity, and humility. Give these behaviors a try, and maybe you’ll earn points on Judgment Day! Happy end of the world!
Hassan on July 22, 2020:
Very nice article!
Jill from Detroit on March 19, 2020:
Bosch lived from 1450-1516. Phillip II wasn’t born until 1527. I think his father Charles V was Bosch's patron.
I enjoyed you pointing out that the 7 Deadly Sins were also reprised in the painting of Hell. Very interesting. It’s hard to see that detail in the picture I have of this painting. Saw the original once in the Prada. Amazing.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on August 25, 2017:
I have a neighbor and these sins are practiced in her life she is pure evil to me.
sweetypie1968 (author) on June 21, 2015:
Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it.
Bob on June 17, 2015:
Excellet presentation ...