The Garden of Earthly Delights

Gross digital animation brings Bosch’s painting of Hell to life

Late medieval painter Hieronymus Bosch is known for highly-detailed, nightmarish paintings so fantastical that the Surrealists, including Salvador Dali, found inspiration in them. And it so happens that Bosch’s unique brand of grossness continues to inspire future generations. As the 500th anniversary of Bosch’s death approaches, artists are using today’s technology to create their own modern interpretations of Bosch’s famous large-scale triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights (1510-15).

Using the Unity game engine, Kaayk specifically recreated the left panel of the triptych as a monochromatic, 3D animated computer simulation. The right panel, if you didn’t know, depicts Hell in all its awful glory, where sinners are impaled by a horde of creatures so vast that the painting needs its own bestiary. And so, if you look carefully enough at Kaayk’s work, you may find demons calmly performing their daily duties of torture and the like. You can also hear the faint howl of wind and muffled screams far into the distance, and the camera pans to ensure you see Hell at every horrible angle.

Perhaps the best part of Bosch’s style is its sheer absurdity and it’s that comes across in Kaayk’s interpretation of it. Animating each of the creatures and their acts of depravity as one wholly inglorious diorama seems to writhe in its own debauchery. It has me fascinated as does the original painting. My personal favorite image from Bosch’s Hell is that of a large knife cradled by two giant ears; the weirdest phallic symbolism I have ever come across. It’s struck a debate between scholars that has ensued for decades, undecided on whether Bosch was depicting a world overcome by its own sins and moral chaos, or a world reveling in Bohemian eroticism denied to it by the Catholic Church of the 20th century.

a world overcome by its own sins and moral chaos

Given that there are so many tiny details in The Garden of Earthly Delights it’s worth seeing in its full-sized glory in The Prado Museum in Madrid. However, if you can’t whisk yourself to Madrid then you can undergo a virtual tour of the painting from the comfort of your home. It’s an experience deepened by the tour’s ominous, haunting music and narrator (and English author) Redmond O’Hanlon knowledgeable uncovering of the painting’s endless symbolism, history, and double entendres.

You can watch Kaayk’s video on Vimeo and go on the virtual tour in your browser.