Eine Welt ohne Sünde: Hieronymus Bosch als Visionär

Lead essay in the catalogue of an exhibition at the Bucerius Forum, Hamburg, 4 June-11 September 2016: Verkehrte Welt: das Jahrhundert von Hieronymus Bosch, edited by Michael Philipp

The essay argues that the Garden of Delights by Jheronimus Bosch is based on the first account of creation in the Bible. Genesis 1 speaks of the creation of man and woman simultaneously, both in the image of God. No prohibition is expressed against eating forbidden fruit; the first humans are not disobedient; there is no serpent to tempt them; they are not embarrassed by their nakedness; they are not expelled from Eden and cursed with a life of hard work and painful childbearing. This picture corresponds to the left panel of the Garden of Delights. The spectacular center panel shows what the world would have looked like had the Fall of Man not taken place, had mankind been free merely to “be fruitful and multiply.”

The hell panel is compared by the author to the 12th-century Vision of Tundale, a Dutch translation of which was published in Den Bosch in 1484. The point of both works is to frighten the reader or viewer into repenting from sin before it is too late. The message is not one of inevitable damnation, but of how to achieve salvation, as did Tundale.

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