Animal Symbolism and the Seven Deadly Sins in the Art of Hieronymus Bosch

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Fall 1996

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The Flemish artist Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450 -1516) painted "The Garden of Earthly Delights" around the year 1505. Since that time, it has puzzled viewers and led to many far-ranging interpretations. Some have tried to explain the iconography of Hieronymus Bosch's works through the possible relationships between the artist and alchemy, astrology, medicine, witchcraft, neoplatonism, and a heretical cult called the Adamites. Bosch's work is rich, and seems to come from a number of sources, but he always drew from traditional Christian themes. The sinfulness of mankind is a major theme in Bosch's oeuvre, and it is bound up with the late medieval theme of the punishments of the damned at the last judgment. The theme of the seven deadly sins pervades every surviving painting by Hieronymus Bosch. As examples, "The Tabletop of the Seven Deadly Sins" and "The Haywain" will be briefly discussed, with the bulk of this paper focusing on the animal symbolism of the seven deadly sins in "The Garden of Earthly Delights."

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