Dante's Inferno and the Garden of Earthly Delights

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Dante's Inferno and the Garden of Earthly Delights

By | October 1999
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The Garden of Earthly Delights painted by Hieronymus Bosch, depicts many vivid fictional scenes in triptych style. The right wing of the triptych depicts Hell and the causes of man's downfall, which Dante wrote about in the Inferno. Dante tries to convey to all humanity the consequences of human actions and the levels of hell that he believes exist for different levels of sins. Dante divides Hell up into ten different circles, and there is an upper and a lower level of Hell. Dante and Bosch have similar views on the evil within people and this evil is represented in their works, whether it transpires in a painting or in a book.

This evil is evident in the right wing of The Garden of Earthy Delights, which can be used to portray scenes from almost all of Dante's circles of Hell. Fire is seen in much of the painting, which can be symbolic of death. Fire is one of the only elements man can create so fire can also be seen as a symbol of mortality. Virgil said, "I come to lead you to the other shore, into eternal darkness, ice, and fire." (Canto III: line 87) This quote shows the connection of fire and Hell. Fire can also be representative of the Holy Spirit and this relates to Dante who ties religion into the Inferno. Fire is the background of much of the top of the painting. Virgil said, "Eternal fire burns within, giving off the reddish glow you see diffused throughout this lower Hell." (VII: 73-75)

Another scene in Bosch's painting that is striking appears towards the bottom and in the middle of the painting. A red instrument that is large and rounded has figures circling around it, some of which are dressed like nuns and one who is dressed like a Pope. These figures may be representative of Dante's belief in God and the Church which are two themes in the Inferno. Dante mentions Pope Nicholas III, Pope Boniface VIII, and Pope Clement V who are in hell for corrupting ecclesiastical offices in the Church and profiting from their actions. "You...
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