The Garden of Earthly Delights
Old Master Paintings
The artistic legacy of Hieronymus Bosch is evoked by a new section of the Museum of Fine Arts’ permanent exhibition built around two works that were displayed at one of the most visited shows ever in the museum’s history: Between Heaven and Hell. The Enigmatic World of Hieronymus Bosch. Since the show closed in the middle of July, the two masterpieces have stayed at the museum on loan, allowing the public to see one of the cardinal pieces of the Bosch exhibition, namely the earliest copy, painted on a wood panel, of the central section of the master’s enigmatic work The Garden of Earthly Delights triptych. After languishing in a private collection for decades, this unique work was first presented to the public in Budapest, at the Museum of Fine Arts’ exhibition, and it will be displayed here until next summer, together with the Temptation of Saint Anthony (borrowed from Antwerp), which had been restored by the Museum of Fine Arts experts prior to the exhibition. So, in the coming months these outstanding paintings can also be viewed by those who missed the Bosch exhibition. (The short film about the restoration can be watched here.)
The new section exploring the impact of the painting of Hieronymus Bosch and the development of the cult that surrounds him forms part of the museum’s permanent exhibition of Old Masters and can be found in the row of halls displaying works executed between 1250 and 1600. The material includes one of the cardinal masterpieces of the Bosch exhibition, namely the earliest copy, painted on a wood panel, of the central section of The Garden of Earthly Delights triptych, which – thanks to the Galerie De Jonckheere in Switzerland – has been loaned by its owner for an extra year, and the Temptation of Saint Anthony, on loan from the collection of the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp, displayed together with the Netherlandish works of the Museum of Fine Arts. The Temptation of Saint Anthony will remain in Budapest for five years, after its restoration by the museum’s experts in preparation for the large-scale Bosch exhibition, which ran from April to mid-July.
Hieronymus Bosch, active in the Netherlands at the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, created one of the most original, emblematic and expressly enigmatic oeuvres in the history of painting. Even today people cannot grow tired of his idiosyncratic universe with an unparalleled visuality and up until now there have been no widely accepted answers to the exact background, source and meaning of his humorous and/or spine-chilling fantastical creatures and visonary scenes. Regarded among his most influential works are the triptych titled Garden of Earthly Delights (Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado) and the Temptation of Saint Anthony (Lisbon, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga). The detailed execution and harmonious palette of the exhibition’s Garden of Earthly Delights, painted on a wood panel, make it unambiguously clear that this earliest surviving panel copy was produced by a highly skilled master, who strove to faithfully follow the minutest detail of the original work.
The central, temptation panel of Bosch’s Saint Anthony triptych must have been a kind of visual best-seller in the sixteenth century: forty-one or so copies of it have survived, of which twelve are the exact replicas of the central panel. One of these is the work from Antwerp displayed at our exhibition, regarded as one of the highest-quality copies, which, apart from some tiny details, precisely follows the original composition.