Federico Zeri,
Bosch: The Garden
of Earthly Delights

(RCS Libri, 1998; NDE, 2001)

"The Garden of Earthly Delights" is an early 16th-century triptych depicting distorted and sometimes disturbing visions of Eden, a garden of pleasure, and Hell. The seemingly acid-laden imagery would rival the works of Salvador Dali, except it predates his work by four centuries.

Contrary to the title, only 12 of the 48 pages are dedicated to the triptych. It starts with a brief summary of the painting and a depiction of the three paintings over two pages. Unfortunately, the middle painting is split among two pages. (A fold-out would have been a nice addition and a justification of the pricey $14.95 price tag.) The next ten pages are packed with large details and fascinating explanations of symbols. The rest of the book is a chronological survey of Bosch's works and his life, with a chronological catalogue of his principal works.

This book transcends its initial appearance of a mere coffee-table edition. Yes, it is a coffee-table book, but it offers wonderful insights into an oddly fantastic painting. The layout of the pages has the images as the focus with the text serving an appropriately supportive role. The book is set up into brief chapters that focus on a theme in the painting or a period in the painter's life. That theme is concisely discussed and shown in large bulleted text. The blow-up details from the paintings are accompanied by captions in smaller text expounding on the discussed themes.

The only downside to this book is that it should have utilized at least 10 more pages to enlarge and expound on uncovered areas of the triptych. I understand that interpreting this painting could fill volumes and still leave uncovered territory. While more attention should have been paid to the title painting, Zeri does an adequate job of pleasing the palate with an appetizing sampler of this feast of symbols.

[ by C. Nathan Coyle ]
Rambles: 23 March 2002

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