Just Your Average Mental Breakdown: Garden of Earthly Delights

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Just Your Average Mental Breakdown

Artists Losing It
Curated by Drew Bierwirth

Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights, 1504

Insane root. Bosch's piece, when I first saw it, confused me. As it should, but the chaotic nature of the subject matter made my eyes unable to focus on one part of the scene. This triptych shows the actions of humans on Earth and their inevitable doom inside an egg-man.

Bosch's work has been analyzed for years and years. People wonder if he was mentally ill, on some types of 14th century drugs, or actually just like this. Here's the thing: Bosch lived a strictly monastic lifestyle, and during that period there wasn't much belief in forgiveness for transgressions. It's more of a one-and-done kind of thing. Which would lead someone completely immersed in that type of mind-space, always terrified of divine judgement, to be a little wacky. Bosch seems to work through this fear here, in a chaotic way that many people blame on less complex causes.

I could talk about lead poisoning, exhaustion, malnutrition, even ergot poisoning in hopes of explaining Bosch's incredible, inexplicable talent. But that would do no good. It's there, chaotic and dystopian, and inspired so many works later. I don't know how many paintings I've used the word Bosch-esque to describe. This piece is special because it's completely unlike any painting of the period, using the same triptych technique and using the three canvases to make something truly dynamic.

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