Making music from asses in Hell

JAMIE EDWARDS

Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights, Prado, Madrid

Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights, Prado, ,Madrid

Just a short post this time. I’ve just noticed a rather fascinating little article in today’s Guardian. A keen American blogger (and apparently self-confessed nerd), has discovered some hitherto unknown sheet music on the ass of one the damned in the right wing of Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” triptych (detail pic. below). I say hitherto unknown, what I really mean is sheet music nobody else has ever bothered to transcribe. What’s more, not only has she transcribed it, she’s also converted it into modern notation and made a recording of the sound, which, if you’re interested, there’s a clip of here.

Bosch Earthly delights detail

This triptych, which has long been a fascination of mine, was probably painted in the 1480s (most books say post-1500… but that’s another story) and was probably commissioned from Bosch by a member of the Nassau family (… again, another story, not for here). The triptych was copied numerously in the 16th century, in paint, in print and in tapestry. Although the picture is mired in controversy, I do think that it was in all likelihood supposed to represent, and warn against,  moral and sinful transgressions such as lust and gluttony; there is, after all, and in keeping with convention for triptychs at the time, a depiction of Hell on the right wing, which we must presume illustrates the fate of the protagonists who are leaping around and fornicating on the middle panel. But this isn’t to say that Bosch wasn’t willing to have fun with it. Musical instruments feature to a great deal in the Hell wing, probably as a playful, but still meaningful, indictment of mankind that continues to succumb to pleasure even though they have been cast headlong into fiery Hell, for punishment of their mortal sins. Links between music and depraved behavior, specifically lust, were not rare in Bosch’s world. And the representation of a disorganized and motley crew–an orchestra of sorts, conducted by a demonic creature in pink –, who are shown gleefully reading the ass music, fits in perfectly with this theme of folly and is testament to Bosch’s sardonic nature.

 

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