“Jheronimus Bosch’ zogenaamde Tuin der Lusten. I” (Paul Vandenbroeck) 1989
[in: Jaarboek Koninklijk Museum Schone Kunsten Antwerpen, 1989, pp. 9-210]
Together with another, equally elaborate contribution to the annual of the Antwerp Royal Museum of Fine Arts, this text is a remastered version of a part of Vandenbroeck’s doctoral dissertation (presented at the Catholic University of Louvain in 1986). In the introduction the author states that Bosch’s Garden of Delights triptych was not necessarily meant as an altarpiece (as has been asserted by Marijnissen). Around 1500 there was also a small number of profane triptychs in the Netherlands [p. 9 (note 3)]. To us this controvery between Marijnissen and Vandenbroeck seems to be based on false grounds, at least as far as the essence of the matter is concerned. Even if the Garden was not meant as an altarpiece, it is obvious that the triptych has a basically religious and not a basically profane content, as can be derived from both the outer and the inner wings.
THE CLOSED WINGS
Vandenbroeck sums up a series of iconographic examples that are supposed to show that the way in which Bosch depicted the world was not unique. Apparently Bosch stuck to the common idea of a flat earth (in which a majority of people believed in the Middle Ages and which began to disappear around 1500) and did not represent the progressive-scientific idea of a round earth. None of the details in the closed wings have a specific meaning [p. 17]. The big transparent sphere is not a sign of power and does not refer to salvation (the Salvator Mundi iconography). The necessary context for this is lacking [p. 12]. Bosch depicted the first three days of Creation in a stereotypical manner fitting in with the contemporary view on Creation [p. 18]. In Bosch’s days the verse taken from the Psalms (32 and 148) was used more than once in a Creation context: apparently it was regarded as a paradigmatical summary of the history of Creation [p. 19]. But not everything is stereotypical: the thorns, prickles, tubes and fruits are sexual symbols referring to the ‘multiplying’ (as mentioned in Genesis) [p. 22]. About the supposed ‘buildings and castles’ in the landschape: see pp. 21-22.
Conclusion: Bosch did not depict the Creation as such, but rather the world, with strong emphasis on procreation, and all this in an eschatological perspective (the evolution of Creation up to the end of the world, the idea of a history of the world and of Salvation) [pp. 23-24].
THE LEFT INNER WING
In the center: Christ as the Creator = the Word. Not an uncommon motif in the fifteenth century, and therefore not carrying a special meaning [pp. 24-25]. In the Middle Ages the Creation was associated with the annual blossoming of nature (spring, the equinox) [p. 26]. The perfect beauty of the first men [p. 27]. Bosch linked these notions (Creation / blossoming of nature / beauty) to the idea of multiplication [p. 27], in accordance with Genesis 1: 28 (according to medieval exegesis: the institution of marriage) [p. 28]. The positioning of Christ / Adam / Eve can already be seen in a Utrecht miniature of around 1445 (see Bax 1956) [p. 29]. This ceremony (the wrists are touched and brought together) was a part of the fifteenth-century wedding ritual [p. 29]. In the late Middle Ages the marriage of Adam and Eve was seen as the prototype of all marriages. The topos of the paradisus amoris: a mixture of marital love and the Earthly Paradise. In applied art and in folk art one of the four functions of the Adam and Eve theme was: to refer to marriage (the others referring to death, the wish for knowledge and labour) [p. 30].
All this fits in with a contemporary debate about the questions: how was life in Eden and has there been sexual intercourse before the Fall of Man? Two important authorities were Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. The latter made the Augustinian point of view (sex in Eden was subjected to the human will) and the Aristotelian one (all sex is accompanied by sensual pleasure) converge. It was commonly accepted that sex was meant to have already taken place in Eden (why else was Eve created?). Therefore sex belongs to the human nature, but in Eden Adam and Eve did not have the time to have sexual intercourse: their stay there was too short (less than a day) [pp. 32-33]. That sexuality in Eden was controlled by human ratio, is only one opinion, though. Contrary to this is the idea (also to be found in Dutch texts from the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries) of the Fall of Man as something sexual and negative. Around 1500 there are also depictions of Adam and Eve of a sexual character (German masters, Gossart) [pp. 34-35].
Vandenbroeck thinks images are not clear enough, though (is there a cum hoc or propter hoc relation between unchastity and the Fall of Man?). Textual sources are easier to interpret. From the flourishing days of scholasticism on, the debates around Adam and Eve have a moral function (the standards for an ideal marriage!). These standards boiled down to: procreation and control of lust. This was also what Bosch tried to express [p. 36]. He did not depict the actual Fall of Man. The Marriage of Adam and Eve is closely interlinked with procreation and sexuality (also with Bosch). That is why we see so many sexual symbols in the left inner wing (animals, birds, rock, fountain). But a lot of these elements have a negative connotation [p. 38]!
Earthly Paradise [pp. 38-51]
In fifteenth-century German and Dutch texts the Earthly Paradise is seen as the perfect, ideal realization of nature. Descriptions of the Earthly Paradise are influenced by the locus amoenus topos in medieval literature. The texts are rather vague about the localization of Eden: in or near India (in Bosch’s days India was the prototype of the ‘wonders of the East’) [p. 41]. Bosch’s depiction of the Earthly Paradise diverges from the locus amoenus motif as we know it from contemporary literature and iconography: no fertile landscape, but rather barren with strange forms [p. 41]. Is this really the case? To us it seems Vandenbroeck is somewhat exaggerating here.
A lot has already been written about the two trees, the dragon’s blood tree and the date palm. Around 1500 they functioned as illustrations of exotic countries, so they have no special meaning. The creeper around the dragon’s blood tree may have a specific meaning: we know this motif from emblem books (as a symbol of a tight, unbreakable connection, in marriage for example) [pp. 41-43]. Perhaps Bosch wanted to point out the unbreakable character of the divine institution of marriage and this would then contrast with the wild promiscuity in the central panel [p. 44]. The bizarre mountains at the horizon: Bax saw them as sexual symbols, but was Bosch conscious of this [p. 44]? See infra. About the fauna: pp. 44-46. About the monsters: pp. 47-51. Only two animal species have a specific, individual meaning: the monsters and the owl [p. 46].
The Fountain of Paradise [pp. 52-72]
The fountain is standing on a little island with black lumps, gems and glass tubes. Dixon interpreted this from an esoteric-alchemistic point of view. Perhaps the little black hill refers to the massa confusa which is at the origin of everything (in which case an alchemical meaning would not be necessary). Together with the gems this could express the idea of the sexualized creatio continua [p. 52]. The ‘gems near a source’ motif is a medieval topos. The gems are proof of the special value of the source. According to Bax they have a sexual meaning. This may be the case: see the fifteenth-century theory about the sexualization of gems [p. 53]. The fountain’s colour has been influenced by the colour schemes of the International Style around 1400. Speculations about the colour symbolism and about the similar colour of the fountain and Christ’s dress have yielded nothing [p. 54]. The fountain contains vegetable forms (some of them round, some of them spinose) that can also be seen in the central panel. There are similar forms to be found in graphics, small architecture and ornamental sculpture. ‘Twig piercing a transparent sphere’ and ‘garlands ending in a bud-like form and piercing a disc’ are iconographic motifs that can also be found elsewhere [p. 55].
All these similarities are concerned with details. But there are also structural similarities in German small architecture and for example in the manuelino style (Portugal). Here, just as with Bosch, we find vegetal architecture without figurative iconography [pp. 56-57]. This means that the details and the structure of Bosch’s fountain have a topical character. In Southern German painting of around 1500 there are also two parallels with the fountain as a whole: Mair von Landshut and an Allgäuer Master [pp. 59-60]!
The only meaning of all these elements is to refer to the phantastic and the exotic [p. 61]. But why do we see a mixture of organic and artificial elements? This seems to be connected with the conviction that the Fountain of Paradise has arisen as it were by itself, and with the topos in which tree and source are interlinked (folklore, pre-Christian tree and source worship, the literary profane topos of the ideal landscape) [pp. 61-62]. In popular mythology the link tree/source was associated with fertility: this fits in well with Bosch’s left wing (marriage, procreation) [pp. 62-63]. Moreover: in the beginning of the sixteenth century artificial vegetal constructions could refer to the opus naturae. For instance in a miniature by Jean Perréal dating from 1516: the generating process of Nature as opposed to the messing about of alchemists who want to imitate Nature [p. 63]. This agrees with the view of some humanists on alchemy: they reject it, but use the same terminology. In the iconography around 1500 there is also a preoccupation with nature. Nature is associated with luxuriance / overgrowth / the gigantic / the complex. The work of nature was seen as the highest creative art (natura / ars) and this was represented in fantastic small architecture in stone or metal. Perhaps Bosch also made this association [pp. 63-66].
To us all this seems rather far-fetched. Especially the tree/source link. Bosch’s fountain isn’t a tree, is it?
The base of the fountain: this form can also be found elsewhere, sometimes with a special meaning (double concentric circle = sun, world, planets or cosmos), sometimes as a formal topos [p. 67]. Did Bosch want to refer to the sun (in that case in combination with a crescent moon)? In the fifteenth century the worshipping of sun and moon was ascribed to pagans and Jews… [p. 68]. The crescent moon: on the St. Anthony triptych (Lisbon) in a pejorative context. Also a negative connotation (just as the worshipping of sun and moon) [p. 69]? The combination sun-moon-source / fountain also in medieval fantastic travel journeys and in alchemy = coniunctio oppositorum. Disc + crescent could then refer to the coniunctio oppositorum = the combination man / woman = erotic. This would fit in well with the context, but still the idea has to be rejected because of lack of evidence. Probably the motif is only meant as an ornamental detail. Yet another possibility: it is meant as a stylized bird-house with (unconscious?) sexual symbolism (as in a seventeenth-century engraving): see the owl and the birds in its neighbourhood [pp. 69-71].
The owl [pp. 72-112]
Here the owl is a negative sexual symbol referring to the corruption by man of God’s marital command (procreation) [p. 112].
TWELVE MEANINGFUL ELEMENTS OF THE CENTRAL PANEL
Do we have to interpret the central panel in a negative or in a positive way? A problem here is: the ambiguity of medieval symbolism. A solution could be: does the central panel contain elements that are negative in an unambiguous way? Vandenbroeck then focuses on twelve of those elements. There are two possibilities: either these elements are only depicted in the Garden, or they also appear elsewhere in the works of Bosch [p. 113].
The crescent moon
Twenty times a crescent moon can be seen in Bosch’s oeuvre. Bax interpreted this motif as an allusion at the diabolical / licentious merrymaking / unchastity and sexuality / Orientals and Jews [p. 113]. In Bosch’s days the crescent moon was a sign of the Turks, the Jews, Orientals and pagans. Because all these persons were seen as ‘servants of the devil’, the crescent moon was given a sinful and diabolical meaning, also with Bosch (Vandenbroeck gives some examples) [pp. 113-115]. Conclusion: the crescent moon was not only associated with Jews and Moslims, but with the complete non-Christian world from the past and the present. In Bosch’s days the crescent moon was a symbol of the ‘bad’ world [p. 116].
In profane symbolism it was an attribute and emblem of jesters and merrymakers. In the fifteenth/sixteenth century: the association jester / devil. According to Bax, referring to Carnival: jesters who disguised themselves as devils. Resulting in the association moon / evil / devil / jester. A simpler explanation for this shift of meaning: according to astrology the moon was the cause of lunacy [p. 116]. There is also a deeper ground: intellectualized ethics in the fifteenth century (folly = sin / wisdom = virtue). Because of this symbols of folly and symbols of evil merged [pp. 117-118]. The moon was associated with parties, jesters and inns and iconography linked it to merrymaking, drunkenness and folly [p. 119].
The moon was also associated with love and marriage [p. 119]. See the old belief in the link between moon and fertility (the growth of nature and man). In artistic tradition there is also an association moon / love, but from a moralizing point of view the moon is here the symbol of love’s instability [p. 120].
Was Bosch familiar with these notions? Is the meaning of ball + crescent moon: evil and folly rule the world? Do the crescent moons with Bosch often have a sheer ornamental function [p. 120]? Within the array of meanings that Bosch was familiar with the motif is unambiguously negative [pp. 120-121]!
Red and blue balls are found in the Garden and elsewhere with Bosch. Also with followers of Bosch. The ball in fifteenth- up to seventeenth-century iconography has not yet been studied thoroughly. Often ornamental (and without specific meaning?) as part of architectural frames in Italian and Flemish works [pp. 121-122]. Apart from this the ball also had a number of specific meanings.
Since Antiquity the ball has been a symbol of the sun, the cosmos or the world + of power aspiring after universality = neutral/positive [p. 122]. Also: an attribute of virtues, vices, muses, gods and sciences. Important in this context are the notions fortuna, melancholia and vanitas = instability, weakness, transience = moralizing-negative [p. 123]. The ball also had a general sinful-negative meaning. For instance in fifteenth-/sixteenth-century iconography as part of pagan or Jewish buildings [p. 124] or of sculptures functioning as architectural ornamentation [p. 125].
In a number of scenes the ball is as yet difficult to interpret [p. 125]. In Bosch’s environment the ball is found in popular games and popular language, but this doesn’t help us any further. In the same context also related with Carnival and inn customs (and because of this associated with licentious and raw popular entertainment for the bourgeoisie) [p. 127]. A ball on a stick has something to do with the folklore of spring [p. 127]. Did Bosch associate the ball with fertility and desire in nature just as in fifteenth-century Italian iconography [p. 127]?
The transparent sphere. A glass sphere could refer to the world and to transience. It also played a role in enigmatic allegories [p. 128]. It was also linked with negative (pagan, demonic) aspects and with the notion of generating nature [p. 129]. The motif ‘transparent, veined sphere’ in the Garden has something to do with the procreative force of nature (with a negative connotation: the motif is also found in a diabolical context with followers of Bosch) and with the male aspect. In medieval myths and sagas there was an association glass / hereafter. Bosch merges the notion of the hereafter with the generating force of nature (see further below) [p. 130].
Ball hanging from wire
Is found in the Garden but also in other works by Bosch. According to Bax there is a relation with celebrations (among others the May Day celebration) and that is why Bosch associated the motif with licentiousness [p. 130]. Vandenbroeck then offers more iconographic examples in chronological order [pp. 130-134]. Conclusion: a ball on a wire is an element borrowed from traditional customs related with May Day celebrations, summer celebrations and weddings. We know very little about this but a common aspect is the relation with fertility / procreation. It could also be a ‘male’ element [p. 134].
There is a double direct link between the use of balls in folklore and Bosch’s figurations. First: wooden balls at the points of spears (in England) and also with Bosch. Second: a ball with needles or pins with Bosch / German folkoristic customs and there a symbol for the womb. So: ball with pins = female, normal ball = male. But there is always a link with celebrations (initially popular, later – to a less degree – bourgeois) and with sexuality. Ball hanging from wire = link with May Day celebrations (love, sex). For Bosch: with a negative connotation [p. 136].
Spherical fruit skins and seed-fruits
With Bosch these are either opaque and open or transparent and closed. Around 1500 they are found in iconographic sources all over Europe [p. 136]. Fruits and fruit skins with human figures in them have parallels in fifteenth-century graphics [p. 137]. The meaning of all these large fruits is unclear [p. 138]. About the gourd: p. 138. About the pomegranate: pp. 138-139. There is definitely a connection with love and sex [p. 140]. With Bosch neutral or negative? Fruits (also large ones) were topical in descriptions of Eden [p. 141]. In the late Middle Ages there is a connection between the picking of fruits and the aetas aurea motif (the Golden Age) [p. 141].
According to Vandenbroeck there is connection with depictions of ‘false paradises’ when Bosch uses this motif [p. 141]. Is it possible to find the meaning of this motif with the help of details in other works by Bosch? Generally speaking the context is not made up by hell-scenes but by temptations and depictions of sinful behaviour [p. 143]. An exception: the closed wings of the Garden [p. 143]. But in general the connotation is negative [p. 143]. Also with Bosch followers in different contexts, but not unambiguously negative [p. 143]. In German mysticism: the old life that is changed because of new insight, and then the new kernel appears. But with Bosch there are no kernels, only empty skins [p. 144]. Some more data about hollow skins and shells. Bax pointed out the sexual symbolism [p. 144]. In Italian macaronic texts around 1500 the pumpkin skin = the habitat of dreamers and lightheaded poets [p. 145]. A reference to the Bruges dialect [p. 145]. Fruits and their skins were associated with worldly pleasures. This could also be partially positive (see the left inner wing of the Bruges Last Judgement: or is the motif here misinterpreted by a follower? This would then be a depiction of Eden with is not very orthodox, but in Bosch’s days the notion of sensual pleasure in Eden was not uncommon). On pp. 145-146 a rather confusing argument about Bosch’s ambiguous morals.
Conclusion. Seed-fruits = fertility, sexuality, Nature (according to official morals: sin / luxuria, deceptive delights). Skins – skin fruits – gourds = sexuality, fertility, love, from a non-folkloristic point of view: secular man, the loose liver, the lightheaded person (evil and folly). Unusual, and also large fruits = Eden, false paradises, fertility and sexuality, wild nature. These connotations, together with those of (sensual) delight, must have played a role with Bosch, the allusion to nature and sexuality is definitely at stake [p. 147]. Around 1500 also a strong interest in (vegetal) nature. The motif could also function in a neutral context (see the Garden’s closed wings) [p. 147].
The ‘mei’ (literally ‘may’, a green blossoming branch)
The central panel, upper left: a man on a griffin with a large green branch. This is a ‘mei’ [p. 147]. Already with the Romans: wreaths, flowers and green during celebrations. Also with the Germans (May celebration). In the Middle Ages it was related to certain rituals [p. 148]. Boys offered greenery and branches to girls. They were put up in fields. Often this led to violence. Because some types of branch were seen as offensive (for example the elder). Usually the common ‘mei’ is a symbol of the affection for a certain person. ‘To plant a may’ could also mean: to enjoy a sexual adventure [p. 149]. In the sixteenth century: the association ‘mei’ / May celebration / licentious behaviour and alcohol abuse [p. 150]. In folklore two other functions: women were whipped with them (a sign of fertility / a ban on sexual intercourse) and little boats and carts were adorned with them during pleasure trips [p. 150]. So, from an ecclesiastical and bourgeois point of view and in literature: ‘mei’ / sexuality, unchastity, violence, licentious entertainment [p. 150]. Bosch did not approve of the May celebrations (compare the numerous official bans). The ‘mei’ motif in the Garden can only be interpreted in a negative way.
Associated with the ‘mei’ there is also the green wreath. Virgins wore a green wreath, in the sixteenth century it was also worn by young men [p. 151]. Worn as adornment by persons at parties and dance festivals, also used as a present by lovers. It also occurred as a sign of inns [p. 152]. Was probably seen as negative because of the association with merrymaking [p. 152]. With Bosch also worn by devils and therefore negative (licentious merrymaking, unchastity, diabolical behaviour) [p. 153].
A third kind of ‘mei’ (not in the Garden, but elsewhere in Bosch’s works): flowers or plants in a pot or pitcher. A pitcher with a ‘wis’ or ‘mei’ could identify a house as an inn [p. 153]. Inns and brothels were criticized by moralists: that is why they occur in hell scenes and scenes of tempation with Bosch. A pitcher with a ‘mei’ could also occur on itself, as an abbreviation and as a sign of licentious behaviour [p. 154]. With Bosch the pitcher with ‘mei’ is unambiguously diabolical or at least negative (detail on the reverse of St. John on Patmos) [p. 155]. Bax points out two other popular meanings of the pot with ‘mei’: a symbolical element near executed people / sexual symbol [p. 155]. In a religious context: a blossoming ‘mei’ in a pitcher = a tribute to the Virgin mary [p. 155].
Occurs in the Garden, elsewhere with Bosch and in other iconographic sources. Always in the neighbourhood of demonic creatures [pp. 156-157]. Also an attribute of persons in profane, enigmatic compositions. Perhaps a reference to ‘worthlessness’, as in the Zutphens Liedboek [p. 157]? A withered branch can also refer to ‘sinfulness’ and function as a sexual symbol [p. 158]. With Bosch a sexual meaning is definitely applicable when the withered branch pierces another object. In the other cases the motif can be associated with sinfulness / evil, worthlessness en folly. But in all cases the motif has a negative connotation [p. 158].
Fruits: strawberry, cherry, blackberry
The strawberry. Is too secondary to function as the basic motif of the Garden, as Siguenza wrote. Siguenza’s interpretation (strawberries = the fleeting taste of lust) can also be found in popular German sagas, but without moralizing intention (was the moralizing element a non-popular addition by Siguenza?) [p. 159]. Strawberries occur in profane and in religious contexts, the former being the eldest. They don’t play a role in ancient mythology, in the Bible or with early Christian authors. They do occur with Ovid as food of the Golden Age (this source was also known in the Middle Ages!). Because of this: in the Middle Ages the paradisiacal plant par excellence. Because of this: one of the plants in the hortus conclusus with the Virgin Mary or in the environment of saints [pp. 159-160]. Further: in margins of manuscripts, with Brussels masters around 1500 and on the polychromy of late-medieval sculptures (Malines), but do they have a specific meaning there? These are the religious contexts [p. 160].
The motif was more widespread in profane contexts. In fifteenth- and sixteenth-century scenes erotic connotations. In profane and moralizing sixteenth-century contexts: the unreliability of sensual pleasure [p. 160]. What Siguenza wrote therefore agrees with urban and intellectual cultural layers in the Netherlands, France and Germany in the fifteenth, sixteenth century. Chronologically there is a shift from: symbol of the good (the pleasures of paradise and of love) towards symbol of unreliable sensual pleasures [p. 161].
Cherries. In the Garden they are obviously used as symbols: see the way in which the cherries are shown or are placed on heads (Bosch often painted objects on a person’s head to clarify something about his or her character) [p. 162]. In fifteenth- and sixteenth-century literature, iconography and popular tradition they are associated with love. In a more general sense also with marriage [p. 162]. The middle classes and patricians apparently interpreted the cherry in the same way as the common people [p. 163]. In popular thought: associated with love, marriage and maybe also unchastity. In German and Flemish late-gothic portraiture: love and marriage. In sixteenth-century Dutch iconography: unchastity. With Bosch cherries = unchastity, luxuria [p. 163].
Blackberries: refer to love and the pangs of love [p. 163]. Berries and fruits. In the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century literature of Rhetoricians (Rederijkers): a frequently used image for the pleasures of love. Fruits can also be metaphors for parts of the female body. In medieval dreambooks they refer to (sensual) pleasures [pp. 164-165]. The general meaning of fruits matches the individual meanings. In the Garden: the greed with which people bite fruits = the intensity of indulging in the pleasures of love and sexuality [p. 165]. Is there a link with the Sicut erat in diebus Noe theme? Before the Flood people were vegetarians! Large fruits = the fertility of the earth? But with Bosch increase in scale is more often used to turn something into a symbol, to draw attention to it or to characterize a person or a group… [p. 165].
Occurs frequently with Bosch, but has never been noticed yet (for example: central panel of the Haywain, to the right). Also with followers of Bosch [p. 166]. In popular belief caves or holes were associated with odd persons and with things that happened or were preserved there [p. 167]. Holes in the earth: in sixteenth-century, cosmological literature = generation, regeneration, rest. The earth presented as ‘hollow’ (grave or a place to hide for sorrow). Popular as well as elitarian cultural layers ascribed special processes and faculties to cavities [p. 168].
With Bosch always negative. Cannot only be explained by popular traditions. Probably unconscious reasons (Freud: hollow form = female sexual symbol) [p. 169]. With Bosch: cavity = (unconscious) vaginal symbol / (female) sexuality / reprehensible things. Compare the central detail on the central panel at the bottom of the blue sphere! [p. 169] With Bosch nature is always sexualized and carries negative connotations. The chain nature / generating force – (female) sexuality) – cavity (darkness) – immorality (or amorality?) [p. 170].
According to Bax: a symbol of licentious merrymaking, intemperance, folly and phallus. Indeed: in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century iconography a number of negative connotations [pp. 170-171]. Also a negative context in other, but enigmatic depictions. In popular legends: often demonic fish [p. 171]. With Bosch the fish is also diabolical: see a detail on the reverse of St. John on Patmos [p. 171]. The fish is not only diabolical, but also erotic: a symbol of fertility and of the phallus from Antiquity to modern times, international. Also in the Netherlands in the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth century. Also with Bosch: compare one of the devils in front of the haywain [pp. 171-172]. The association with licentious merrymaking is not essential in the Garden. There it is probably a sexual symbol (which does not exclude a diabolical connotation) [p. 172].
Fish with wings and airborne fish. Unambiguously negative because of their diabolical context in the works of Bosch [p. 172]. Human figure riding a fish: has a long but vague tradition. Fifteenth-century examples are less vague: diabolical and sexual context [p. 173]. In the Garden, because of their context, mainly sexual [p. 173].
In Bosch’s oeuvre the griffin only appears in the Garden. A very old tradition (originating in Mesopotamia in the fourth millennium B.C.), which is why the motif easily became topical and void of meaning [pp. 173-174]. In the Middle Ages it could refer to Christ or humility, but usually to the devil or wicked persons. According to the Physiologus tradition: often without special meaning, sometimes Christ or the devil. In the encyclopedias only a symbolical meaning from the thirteenth century on: associated with greed. In the Middle Ages no other connotations than these. Only occasionally with a symbolic meaning, more often used as sheer ornamentation. For Ruusbroec: people who are inclined to earthly vanities and who are slaves of their ‘nature’ [p. 174].
Outside religious-didactic literature, often in a topical context = a symbol of the wild and the exotic. Also used as sheer decoration, in an erotic context and on fifteenth- and sixteenth-century tapestries (depicting motifs such as the hortus conclusus, sibyls, virtues: the griffin then appears among the evil elements) [p. 175]. In the sixteenth century also a part of fantastic animal fights: the griffin is always an attacker. Also an element of urban festivities (parades, triumphal processions) [p. 175]. Also an element in the iconography of love. In fifteenth-century love scenes = wild nature and wild impulses [pp. 175-176]. With Bosch probably associated with wildness – exotism – force – nature (impulses) [p. 176].
Acrobats and flying persons
Figures doing a handstand are often depicted in Bosch’s works (but always in diabolical surroundings). Also with followers of Bosch [p. 176]. Equilibrists were considered to be scum by medieval moralists and burghers. For Bosch definitely negative (compare the diabolical context), but the reason remains unclear (as with Brant the corruptus ordo vivendi?) [p. 177].
With Bosch flying persons or persons with wings only appear in the Garden. According to the tradition of religious literature: the blessed or souls could h
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